PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Two 50-year-old men filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming the Seventh-Day Adventist Church put a man known to abuse children in charge of its youth program in the 1970s and kept him in that position even after learning he was accused of abusing a child in its ranks.
The men filed the suit in Oregon, seeking $15 million from the Maryland-based church and its Northwest and Oregon branches. The men say they were abused in the 1970s but only discovered two years ago that the church knew it had a convicted child molester in the program and did nothing.
The church did not immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
The lawsuit contains photocopies of several indictments and convictions of the former youth program leader, who is not being named by The Associated Press because he is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
The first indictments were in the late 1960s and others continued through the 1980s. The man was last released from prison in 2000.
The program leader was accused of fondling a child in 1968. He was then indicted again for sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy in 1969.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys provided documentation showing he pleaded guilty to a 1970 charge, and the other two charges were dropped.
The lawsuit alleges church leadership knew of the charges and convictions, and put the man in charge of a youth group anyway. By 1975, he was again accused of two counts of sex abuse. It’s unclear what happened to that case, but the lawsuit alleges the church knew of the allegations and kept him in the youth program, at one point even promoting him to oversee other groups.
The suit accuses the church of sexual battery, negligence in allowing the youth leader to commit other acts of abuse, committing fraud by promoting the program as safe, and intentionally committing emotional distress on the two men by failing to address their complaints as children in the 1970s.
The attorneys in the case, Steve Crew and Peter Janci of Portland, say the number of boys abused is unknown. The man was the central figure in another suit in 2011 against the church that claimed he abused a man and the church did nothing.
The two plaintiffs in the current case are connected by the claims but have otherwise led different lives. One plaintiff says he went to medical school, became an anesthesiologist and thought he was past the childhood sexual abuse. He remains a devout member of the church, even helping lead youth programs.
In 2012, he said stories about sex abuse in other organizations reminded him of his abuse in the 1970s at the hands of the program leader.
The other plaintiff said he’s left the church. He said he told church elders that the program leader abused him but they told him he was a liar and it kept going on.
In October 1980, the man was convicted of second-degree sodomy with a child younger than 14 and found not guilty of second-degree sex abuse by Lane County Circuit Court Judge Edwin E. Allen. In 1986, he was again found guilty of sodomy.
A 1984 motion by a prosecutor in one of the criminal cases indicates the man fled Oregon while under indictment, first going to Sacramento, California, before leaving with a teenage boy for Alaska, where they lived for two years under assumed names until he was arrested.
The details of his 1980s charges in Alaska were not immediately available.
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