Mormon church asks for ruling on sex abuse case before trial

Mormon church asks for ruling on sex abuse case before trial

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- A former Mormon missionary accused of molesting an American Indian boy in the 1960s denies the allegation, and the church wants a federal judge to decide the case before it goes to trial.

Ferris Joseph, 52, filed the civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in South Dakota against the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Latter-Day Saints, both of Utah.

He is suing the Mormon church, claiming he was sexually abused by one of its missionaries, Robert Lewis White, in the late 1960s when Joseph was 11 or 12 years old.

Joseph is an American Indian who lived with his family in Sioux Falls from 1966 to 1968, according to the lawsuit. The abuse happened at White's apartment in Flandreau, it states.

White was based at the Northern Indian Mission in Rapid City and was assigned to Flandreau, in eastern South Dakota, where the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is located.

Joseph had no memory of the abuse until an October 2004 visit to Canada to see his sister, a devout member of the Mormon church, according to the complaint.

In a deposition transcript filed in court, White denies he sexually abused Joseph or any other boy, and testified that he was celibate when he served in Flandreau from Nov. 8, 1967, and July 13, 1968.

"No, nothing bad went on," he told a lawyer.

White's companion missionary at the time, Jay Larson, also testified that the two men followed the church's rule to stay in sight of each other at all times, and that he had no memory of White ever acting inappropriately, according to court documents.

The civil case is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 25 in Sioux Falls.

James McMahon, the Sioux Falls lawyer representing the Mormon church, has filed a motion for summary judgment, in effect asking a federal judge to rule on the case before the trial because of a lack of evidence.

The statute of limitations has expired and the law does not hold a church financially responsible for the actions of its volunteer missionaries who have to support themselves, the motion states.

"Courts throughout the country have refused to recognize the existence of a fiduciary relationship between a religious organization and its members based solely on religions teachings or faith," it states.

McMahon and one of Joseph's lawyers, Adam Horowitz of Miami, declined to comment.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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