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LDS Church named in lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of Navajo children in foster program

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. -- Two members of the Navajo Nation have sued The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, alleging the church placed Native American children in Mormon foster homes where they were sexually abused and that LDS leaders did not take adequate steps to protect those children.

The lawsuit, filed in Navajo Nation District Court on March 22, names The Corporation of the President of the LDS Church, The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, LDS Family Services and the LDS Church itself.

The allegations stem from a foster care program formerly carried out by the LDS Church and its subsidiaries called the "Indian Placement Program" or the "Lamanite Placement Program" (LPP). The two plaintiffs, a brother and sister, state they and another sibling experienced abuse while in the program in Utah from 1976-1983.

“It was kind of a series of ongoing sexual abuse situations of varying degrees while in this program,” said Craig Vernon, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The brother, fictitiously named in the lawsuit as “RJ” to protect his privacy, reportedly suffered abuse that included fondling, sexual molestation and rape during his years in the program.

According to the suit, RJ was placed in an LDS home in Oak City, Utah in 1978 at the age of 10, where he was allegedly sexually molested on several occasions by an older stepbrother. The boy was removed from the home after he disclosed the abuse, and the next year he was placed with another family in Utah--where the lawsuit states he was again molested by an older foster-brother.

After the boy said he again reported the abuse to Church leaders, he was placed with another family in the LPP, where he was again allegedly abused and also witnessed the alleged abuse of a younger sister.

He said he reported the abuse to the Church, but this time, the Church sent him back to live in that same home where the reported abuse occurred.

The sister, fictitiously named "MM" in lawsuit documents, was placed in an LDS home in Utah in 1976. The girl was allegedly raped by a friend of her stepbrother, who was 40 years old at the time.

A few years later in 1983, after being placed in a different foster home in Centerfield, Utah, MM said she was again allegedly abused sexually, this time by her foster-father.

The lawsuit alleges the LDS Church did not take reasonable steps to protect the children--even after abuse was reported.

“The problem is, when they reported this to LDS social services, we don’t believe that the police was ever contacted,” Vernon said. “First and foremost, that’s what needs to happen.”

Other steps would have included removing children from the home where the abuse occurred, and setting up better policies to monitor children, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further alleges that LDS Church policies are designed to protect the church and its leaders from culpability rather than ensure that abuse is reported to authorities and justice pursued.

The lawsuit cites a policy that states, "'To avoid implicating the Church in legal matters to which it is not a party, Church leaders should avoid testifying in civil or criminal cases or other proceedings involving abuse.' (Handbook 1, Stake Presidents and Bishops 2010, section 17.3.2)." And another policy that encourages church leaders to contact an LDS Bishop about abuse first rather than the police.

“We want clear policy changes… that the Church is not going to investigate its own sexual abuse, it’s going to report it immediately and direct its members and leaders to report it immediately to police,” Vernon said.

The lawsuit also asks the Church to create a policy to remove any leader named in abuse allegations from contact with children. Plus, the attorneys request that the LDS Church change their policy about directing leaders not to testify in civil or criminal cases involving abuse.

The lawsuit seeks damages for the injury caused to the plaintiffs, though no amount is specified. And, Vernon said, the plaintiffs want to see the LDS Church write a formal apology for harms caused and to restore Navajo culture, which they allege was damaged by years of efforts to assimilate native children into white, Mormon culture.

The LDS Church released a statement Thursday in response to the lawsuit through spokeswoman Kristen Howey:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and works actively to prevent abuse. This lawsuit was filed earlier today [sic]. The Church will examine the allegations and respond appropriately."

Another attorney on the case, William Keeler, said the Church has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.

The LDS Lamanite Placement Program ran from about 1947 to the 1990s. Lamanite is a term used by the LDS Church to refer to Native Americans, who the LDS Church believes are descended from a group that fled Israel in 600 B.C.

The lawsuit states Mormons believe Native Americans were "cursed" with dark skin for wickedness, and the lawsuit alleges Mormons felt a cultural and religious duty to convert Native American children and immerse them in white, Mormon culture as a way to redeem their prophetic destiny. As such, thousands of Navajo children like the plaintiffs were baptized into the LDS Church and relocated to live with white, Mormon families through the LPP.

23 comments

  • the_don

    I hope it sticks, maybe after a few court hearings then will these people learn they are not above the law.

    • Stewart McDonald

      The alleged event took place 40-years ago and the now 50-year old man is using fictitious name? Really?

      • Yael

        Mormons are weird people and even if the guy reported this some 100 years ago and used initials, I would believe him.

  • Pear

    Really after 40 yrs????? Why do we continue to hold anyone or an entity to today’s standards and laws? It is horrible but attorneys are just $$$$$$ hungry!

  • snapjudy

    Let’s hope that anyone who may have knowledge or may have been harmed will find the courage to come forward and contact law enforcement no matter how long ago it happened.
    Silence only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.

    Judy Jones, 636-433-2511. snapjudy@gmail.com,
    SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc

    • Jay

      Love what your doing, and hope to see your include Police officers, School Teachers, Therapists, or for that matter anyone who uses their position of trust as a front to predate upon the innocent . Thank you! Maybe a longer Acronym might help also.

  • 8ch

    Abuse is an awful thing and this story is sad however it turns out – there is no winner here. but on another note – whoever wrote this article really stirred it up with that last paragraph in a problematic way. I can’t identify exactly what it is yet but it really bothers me. Media – be careful with the power which you have been given.

    • Hot tub junction

      FOX13 is just pushing an agenda like every media outlet does. They are all biased one way or another.

      • Bobby

        I am so glad I am not the only one seeing this with regards to Fox13! As for the article, how about going after the creeps that did these disguisting acts and make them pay, again, what does the church have to do with it? The Church is a thing, it CANNOT molest anyone, only wacko people can! PS – WACKOS exist everywhere, some are church members, some are not.

    • Yael

      There is a lot of truth to this article and if you hear of such allegations from more than two, you’d know there is some truth to it. Navajo children have rights to justice; I hope they get the big nasty Mormon guys who are responsible for allowing such travesty for all children affected. It’s been going on for many years.

  • Yae Begaye

    Mormons have their own shady policies and laws that they believe protects from investigation and arrests. They use their religion citing laws they say is invasive to their “private” activities. History cites that Letter Day Saints or the Mormons are branched off the Mason lodges. They practice polygamy (more than one wife) and one wonders about how greedy and lustful these people are — raping and molesting children. It is not strange they require marriage of very young girls to very old men they call “elders.” Navajo Nation should stop sending children for adoption into the Mormon “camps.” It’s not safe nor is it productive for them. Mormons are not like regular white folks; they practice religion that is actually CULT where restrictions are put on everyone within their camps. Indian children will only return to the reservation all “messed” up by those Mormons. It is possible those children who return have no sense of respect for their elders and many end up killing policemen or family members.

    • Gregery Gorbahn

      I feel sad that you have heard such falsehoods about the “Mormons”. Some of what you say stems from a truth but has been twisted. I do feel for those in this story and, if they’re telling the truth, I want justice. But spreading false statements is not condoned by anyone. If you would like to know the truths I can tell you where to find them.

  • Yael

    It has to be the right thing to do by going after the Mormons through a lawsuit. They have a lot of money. After centuries of hidden predatory practices, they have left people with bodily damages not to mention the psychological torments of Navajo children. They have to live as “damaged” people the rest of their lives as adults. I do not believe children become automatic people of same-sex drive nor become cross-dressers until/or unless their innocence have been stripped of them through rape or molestation — that goes for both female and male children. Results are that they’ve been left in a confused state emotionally and psychologically, which if not strong enough, can lead to suicides. Let’s save our children. It is not too late and get rid of the option of sending Navajo children to the homes of Mormons.

  • Parker West

    I want to believe these kids and given that there are sexual predators seemingly every where it’s reasonable to think that some children were at risk. The part that doesn’t smell right is the allegation by the boy, who’s likely a man with his own children now, he said he was abused in three family situations, Bing, bam, boom. One after the other. I have a hard time believing that yet it could certainly be true. As an aside I live in Arizona, I have spent a lot of time in the Window Rock to Gallup area. At least 70% of the Indian kids fail, lose interest in school, drop out, drink, use drugs and just exist on government payments as adults. They are not motivated nor ambitious. The Tribal Council would of course deny this, but anyone who knows the situation would admit it’s grim.
    The Indian kids I went to school with were shy but once they felt comfortable they followed the other kids, played on teams, developed math, reading and other skills and did well. I don’t doubt that some motivations behind the program with based on superstition and ignorance, but the net result was that many of these kids were much better prepared for life with tools to be successful than they would have been staying on the reservation.
    As far as refusing to testify and protecting the church at all costs, have they not learned anything from the disasters in the Catholic Church or what’s developing in the Jehovah Witnesees? The Royal Commision of Australia has been investigating groups for child abuse for the last 18 months. The refer to the JWs as creating a paradise for perverts as well as having the worst child sexual abuse problem of any group investigated. Listen up LDS, then wise up!

    • Begay

      The Navajo people should of never allowed they’re children to be taken in the first place. BUT did they have rights to stand up for themselves from the start? Most of these parents were intimidated by so called religious organizations and Mormon cults. For one thing the Mormons saw themselves as THE PURE WHITE AND DELIGHTSOME PEOPLE and the darker skinned people were THE DARK LOATHSOME AND VIAL PEOPLE. They didnt take these children because of love for them. They took them to use them for extra income, convert them, to use as slaves, and even molest them. Because they are not pure white and delightsome it doesn’t matter to report to police. They have their own laws. Whoever thinks it is too late to report rape molestation of children is not right in the head. I am proud that these two siblings are holding the Mormon Church accountable.The mormons have they’re own laws they turn a blind eye on they’re criminals they want to rule their roost, then its chicken pluckin time! To all you Native adults who have been molested or beaten by your foster parents as children, you know what it was like. step in by reserching the history of the Mormon Church, the stuff that they don’t tell you. Educate you’re children and grandchildren about religions, groups, organizations that want to change you’re traditional ways. Why would you want to be involved in a religion that believe that you are and never will be a temple worthy Mormon. No matter how deep into this religion you are you will never reach their highest heaven the celestral kingdom. They used to believe if they baptize you that you’re skin would start turning pale. Now they believe they can breed youre dark color out. Research!!! I grew up with foster cousins. They were moved around alot they’re life was very hard they were whipped and made to work like slaves. and they were forced to be baptized mormon.

  • The White Stone

    The policy also directs church leaders that if somebody tells them of abuse that violates the law that they are to encourage that person to report it to the authorities as well. The church provides several resources for church leaders to call on when faced with a situation like this and the focus is on protecting the abused. It is unreasonable to expect some Bishop to report hearsay he can’t validate to the authorities or to testify on it in court.

  • jono51

    The abuse comes as no surprise, just shameful. You would think the people that created Ancestry.com would know “Lamanites” being a lost tribe of Israel would be silly with DNA evidence.

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