Sexual abuse case against Mormon Church to begin Friday
By Julie Zauzmer, January 18, 2018, The Washington Post
Michael Jensen preyed on children in the close-knit Mormon community around Martinsburg, W.Va. At least, that’s how law enforcement officials and at least half a dozen families see it now.
But for years, Jensen was a trusted member of the local church community, a young man whom Mormon leaders praised as a role model for youths — and 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.
Five years ago, Jensen went to jail for abusing two children.
But a group of parents say now that it’s not just Jensen who should be held responsible; it’s the much larger Mormon hierarchy in West Virginia that they believe failed to respond appropriately to complaints about Jensen. The six families, who all say their children were abused by Jensen, are suing local Mormon leaders and the global church.
Like the Catholic Church, these parents say, the Mormon Church needs to be exposed for working to cloak the crimes of a community member against young children. For its part, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints argues — in a case that is scheduled to go to trial in Martinsburg this week — that Mormons have a strong tradition of reporting all suspected child abuse to law enforcement.
Jensen, the church will say, was a troubled young man whose crimes simply went undetected at first, not a beneficiary of church protection.
“Despite Plaintiffs’ misleading rhetoric, this is not a clergy-abuse case. There is no correlation between this case and the terrible clergy-abuse scandals that have dominated the headlines,” lawyers for the church wrote in a court filing. “Rather, this case involves a mere teenage congregant … who committed sexual abuse in settings with no connection to the Church.”
Due to a court gag order, the lawyers and witnesses involved in the case are barred from speaking publicly about it before trial, and many of the court filings are under seal. The Post attempted to reach the defendants and their lawyers; all either declined to talk due to the gag order or did not respond.