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Mother sues Mormon church in abuse case

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Connie Paige
Globe Correspondent / July 10, 2008

A Lawrence-area woman is alleging that the Mormon church failed to conduct a background check on a convicted sex offender, who went on to molest her 9-year-old son in 2004 while baby-sitting the boy at the church's Methuen branch.

In a lawsuit filed in Essex Superior Court in Lawrence, the mother also alleges that church leaders tried to persuade her not to press charges against the sex offender, a Dracut man who had served a year in a Maine prison for a sex crime 22 years earlier, and refused to cooperate with a police investigation into the assault on her son.

Her lawsuit says that but for the church's alleged negligence, the boy would not have been molested, and that he now suffers from post-traumatic stress and other psychological disorders. The mother is asking for an unspecified amount of damages.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denies the allegations. In a response to the lawsuit, filed June 25, the church said it "is not a proper defendant" in the case.

Its lawyer, Harold W. Potter Jr., said the boy was abused, but denied the church had responsibility for it. "The church, while it recognizes that something like this is tragic for the victim, it doesn't feel that the church itself did anything wrong," Potter said last week.

The lawsuit refers to the victim as John Doe and his mother as Mother Doe. The Globe's policy is not to name victims in sexual abuse cases without their consent.

Liam C. Floyd, a lawyer for the accusers, said he has advised the mother and her son, now age 13, not to discuss the case. Floyd declined to elaborate.

Potter acknowledged that the Dracut man, Kevin Curlew, volunteered at the church and may have supervised children.

Curlew "was a member like anybody else and . . . volunteered to do various things within the church," he said. However, he added, while "every church hopes that all of their members are wonderful, law-abiding citizens," any church "has members who sadly you find out later were not."

Potter said that the church did not perform a criminal background check on Curlew, and that it would be unusual for any church to do so. "I don't think you could find a church in the United States that does [criminal background] checks on its members," he said.

After the church found out about the crime, Potter said the church immediately excommunicated Curlew, while church leaders "did everything they could" to help the boy and his mother. Church leaders "offered the family counseling," Potter said.

He also said the church reported the crime promptly to the state Department of Social Services, as required by law, and cooperated completely with Methuen police.

"There was a trial of Mr. Curlew, and the church was prepared to be there and testify at the trial, and, as it turned out in the end, the assistant district attorney decided it wasn't necessary," Potter said.

The lawsuit, filed in May, is against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called the Mormon church or LDS, based in Salt Lake City; its Methuen branch; two local male members of the church; and Curlew.

The complaint says that in the 1980s,the mother joined the church in San Diego, and participated in it until she divorced her husband. In 2002, she moved with her children to the Lawrence area. She then became a member of the church in Methuen.

During her visits to regular women members' meetings, other members at the church watched her son, the complaint says. It says Curlew volunteered as a church baby-sitter and was allowed to be alone with the boy, contrary to church policy, which required at least two adults to be present when watching children.

According to the complaint, in 1981 Curlew had been convicted of a sexual misdemeanor, in Maine, for which he served one year of a four-year sentence.

During the summer and fall of 2004, Curlew molested the boy several times in the church bathroom, the complaint says.

On or about Dec. 5, 2004, the complaint says, Bishop Stephen Day and church member Daniel Rice learned of the abuse and told the mother "that the matter should be kept within the church and that Curlew would have LDS counseling. "

Day and Rice "attempted to persuade Mother Doe not to press charges but to keep the entire matter 'within the church,' " the complaint says.

Even after the report of the abuse, it says, Curlew was allowed to continue to come to the church and work as a volunteer.

Methuen police arrested Curlew on Jan. 4, 2005. The complaint says that "rather than cooperate with the police, the defendants had lawyers flown in from Salt Lake City . . . in January 2005 to protect their interests."

In the recent interview, Potter said the lawyers were flown in because "the church takes these things seriously."

In 2006, Curlew was convicted of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and two counts of assault and battery, and sentenced to nine to 10 years in prison, with 512 days' credit for his time in jail.

Curlew is held in the North Central Correctional Institution in Gardner and has appealed the convictions.

Connie Paige can be reached at cpaige@globe.com.

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