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The Sins of Brother Curtis: A Story of Betrayal, Conviction, and the Mormon Church Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 15, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
A protracted legal battle to hold the Mormon Church (LDS) responsible for sexual abuse drives investigative reporter Davis's insightful examination of hard-won justice. In 1997, Seattle attorneys Tim Kosnoff and Joel Salmi took on the case of 18-year-old Jeremiah Scott, who, at age 12, was repeatedly abused by Brother Frank Curtis, an elder in Scott's Portland, Ore., Mormon community. When Scott's mother reported the abuse to her Mormon bishop, she was told the church was aware of Curtis's problem. So though Curtis had since died, the Scotts wanted to sue the church for failing to protect Scott. Kosnoff and Salmi soon discovered Curtis's pattern of molestation stretched back decades and across state lines. The abuse itself almost becomes secondary to the vicious pretrial battles between Kosnoff's team and the lawyers for the LDS, who said the church's records were protected by clergy-penitent privilege and the First Amendment freedom-of-religion clause. The million settlement in 2001 brought an end to the case but not the issue, as Davis makes abundantly clear in her well-researched account of systematic abuse and coverup. (Mar.)
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A career shift from criminal defense to civil law plunged Tim Kosnoff into one of the most important recent American lawsuits, pleading for a child sexual abuse victim against the Mormon Church. The plaintiff held that the church had known about the abuser for years, didn’t report him, and allowed him access to more victims. That abuser, Frank Curtis, dead well before the suit was filed, became Kosnoff’s obsession for years as he ferreted out more of Curtis’ victims. Curtis becomes Davis’ and readers’ obsession, too, as she traces Kosnoff’s sleuthing and concurrent battling against the legal maneuvers the church made to shield itself. By the time the case was settled, important clarifications of what churches may claim is confidential in clergy-member communications had been made, and the Mormon Church’s stonewall secretiveness about its intramural dealings had been breached. Don’t expect the lawyers, the investigators, the victims, or the perp to spring from the pages with novel-like vibrancy. Do expect to be enthralled by a crackerjack, no-nonsense journalist at the top of her game. --Ray Olson
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This is a disturbing story. Various LDS leaders knew Curtis was a pedophile but kept giving him access to children--especially to boys, his preferred prey. In Lisa Davis's telling, this is connected to the church's policy on serious transgressions: excommunication but with opportunity for repentance, re-baptism, and readmission. Curtis was disciplined at least three times and excommunicated twice. Usually he shifted locations, and although he was known as someone with a problem, under church policy and belief he had wiped the slate clean. Davis tries to be fair to the church in showing how the church's bishops, who come from the ranks of the male laity, are overwhelmed with responsibilities and untrained in dealing with serious predators.
But, frankly, the LDS church as it emerges in The Sins of Brother Curtis seems, as an entity, uncaring--more eager to avoid revealing its considerable assets than in atonement or in helping victims heal. Its tactics were to stall, to pressure, and to buy off people as cheaply as possible.
In researching the book, Davis learned there are about twenty survivors of this one pedophile's abuse, which stretched over decades and into multiple states. The secrecy began to unravel when two Seattle attorneys took the case of Jeremiah Scott, then eighteen, in 1997. Scott had been abused repeatedly when he was twelve by Curtis, then a Mormon elder in Portland. Curtis had since died. Scott and his mother decided to sue when they learned that bishops had known about Curtis's past abuse of boys.
I hope that by this story coming to light, the church will begin to implement more effective policies for dealing with some offenses, if it has not already, and will become more caring as an institution toward survivors of abuse. The Sins of Brother Curtis is a solidly researched and compellingly written book that shows how a serial predator can take advantage of a church's laudable idealism and belief in redemption.