TACOMA — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently agreed to a $1.1 million settlement in a lawsuit brought by a man who was sexually abused as a preschooler by a teenage volunteer in his Tacoma ward.
When the parents of the plaintiff, who was 5 at the time of the incident in 1980s and now lives in Utah, told their bishop for the Mountain View Ward, the church leader said the same volunteer had been accused months before, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, Vincent Nappo of the law firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala.
The bishop discouraged the parents from going to the police, Nappo said.
That’s common to many of the sexual abuse claims against the LDS Church, where congregants are indoctrinated to bring problems, ranging from domestic to substance abuse, to their bishops and instructed to handle those issues internally, according to attorney Mike Pfau, who oversees PCVA’s cases against the LDS Church.
“There are clear patterns to LDS abuse, just like the Catholic Church,” said Pfau, the senior partner in the firm’s Seattle office. He added later, “What happens is the truth doesn’t come to light and people don’t get the help they need.”
Pfau said his firm has 63 active claims against the LDS Church across the country — 31 of them lawsuits. He estimated more than three-quarters involved the Boy Scouts of America, a major part of LDS youth programs which has also faced lawsuits related to sexual abuse. Pfau said the LDS Church, one of the largest sponsors of BSA troops, chose and trained members to become scoutmasters.
Six of PCVA’s cases pending against the church are in Washington, Pfau said.
In a statement to The News Tribune about the settlement, the LDS Church said it condemns all forms of abuse.
“In this particular case of abuse from many years ago, the Church came to a resolution with the plaintiffs in the interest of all involved,” the statement read.
The abuse occurred as the 5-year-old and his family were setting up for a church dance, according to Nappo. A 14-year-old volunteer followed him to the bathroom and raped him.
The parents thought their child, who was in hysterics, was having a routine tantrum, Nappo said. About a week later, they learned he’d been abused and went to their bishop.
In that meeting, the bishop said the volunteer had been reported to the police for sexually assaulting a 2-year-old church member while babysitting, according to Nappo. The father and bishop tried to dissuade the mother from getting the police involved in their case.
“She refuses,” Nappo said. “She’s just not going to take no for an answer.”
The volunteer was charged with rape of a minor in Pierce County Juvenile Court, but the outcome is unknown due to the confidentiality surrounding juvenile cases, Nappo said.
Nappo said his firm believes the man now lives in Idaho. He did not respond to their communications.
The 5-year-old survivor, now in his 40s, has struggled with financial instability and substance use, Nappo said. He remains a committed member of the LDS Church, which was part of his struggle in looking for accountability.
The man recently realized he could seek damages from the LDS Church due to Washington’s reforms on statutes of limitations in both civil and criminal cases, according to Nappo. He filed his lawsuit in June.
“He is pleased with the settlement, and he views it as the starting point to a path to healing,” Pfau said. “He is also pleased that the LDS Church stepped up, addressed what happened, and made amends quickly and efficiently. And I think that shows some accountability on the church’s part.”