The Mormon Church has settled a child abuse lawsuit after two months of trial, resolving in an undisclosed agreement allegations that a West Virginia branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) concealed reports of sexual abuse for years.
Mormon Church Accused Of Hiding Child Sexual Abuse
The accusations stem from the actions of a single man, 26-year-old Christopher Michael Jensen, who was excommunicated from the church in 2013, The Journal, a paper in Martinsburg, reports.
In 2013, Christopher Michael Jensen was convicted of sexually abusing two minors, who were 3 and 4-years-old at the time of the abuse. He was sentenced to between 35 and 75 years in prison. Jensen’s crimes, however, appear to go far beyond those two children.
Parents Say LDS Officials Failed To Protect Their Children
In their civil lawsuit, filed in 2013, six families, representing nine children, said their kids were sexually abused by Jensen over the course of many years.
Sexual abuse claims began early for Christopher Michael Jensen. He was arrested in 2004, at the age of 13, and charged for sexually abusing two of his female classmates at a middle school in Utah. Throughout his time in the Church, Jensen was repeatedly the subject of similar allegations, including reports made directly to LDS staff members, the parents continue.
Yet the Mormon Church did nothing, plaintiffs say, to protect their children. As a member of the LDS Church, the parents argue, Church officials had a legal obligation to warn member families of the potential dangers that Jensen presented in their midst.
“A Role Model For Youths”
Instead, officials at Jensen’s local church regarded the young man “as a role model for youths,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
A “trusted member of the local church community,” writes Washington Post reporter Julie Zauzmer, Jensen was “recommended as a babysitter for one child after another, even as reports allegedly came back to some church volunteers that Jensen was sexually abusing boys and girls as young as two.”
Father Denies Knowledge, But Threw Son Out At 18
Christoper Michael Jensen’s parents are both officials in the LDS Church, according to the West Virginia Record. In testimony at trial, the man’s father, Chris Jensen, told jurors that he’d been unaware of the serious allegations until 2012, when his son was formally-charged in the case that ultimately led to his imprisonment.
The Mormon Church took a similar line in its own defense, arguing that Jensen had “fooled everyone,” lying to officials about his conduct. But Jensen’s early run-in with the authorities, when he pleaded guilty to fondling two young girls at school, throw the Church’s claims of ignorance into doubt, plaintiffs’ attorneys say.
Also pertinent is the statement of Jensen’s father, made during that same trial testimony, when the man admitted that he’d kicked his son out of his West Virginia home in 2010 for physically assaulting a family member. The younger Christopher Jensen was 18 at the time.
Young Predator Recommended As Babysitter
Court filings submitted by the plaintiffs suggest that, years earlier, Jensen was forced to sleep in the backyard after he abused one of his own sisters. That’s when Jensen’s mother, the lawsuit claims, began recommending her son as a babysitter for other Mormon families.
In 2011, Jensen went on his mission trip, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. Where the young man was sent has not been reported, but he was called back to West Virginia one year later, on the Church’s request, to answer to the developing criminal investigation into his mistreatment of children.
Plaintiff: Leaders Withheld Info On Abuse Investigation
Even then, Church officials were cagey about the young man’s conduct, court records suggest. When informed by a parent that Jensen would be staying at his house during the investigation, Steven Grow, the president of the LDS Church’s Martinsburg Stake, told the father that Jensen could serve as a good role model for the man’s son, who had stopped attending church.
That father is now one of the plaintiffs in the case against the Mormon Church. During his brief stay, Jensen allegedly abused the father’s three children. Leaders in the Church, the father claims, never mentioned that Jensen was back in West Virginia on sexual abuse charges.
Two Months Of Trial End In Undisclosed Settlement
Trial in the civil case began on January 18, 2018, stretching out over the course of two months to include numerous depositions and testimonies. Alleged witness misconduct even led Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes to consider a mistrial, but the defense’s motion to dismiss the case was ultimately withdrawn.
When news of the settlement broke on March 23, Judge Wilkes commended the Berkeley County jury for their patience. “For you to stick through this is remarkable,” the Judge said. “I take extreme pride that our Berkeley County citizens are willing to serve.” The settlement agreement’s terms have not been released to the public.