SALT LAKE CITY – A state appeals court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the Mormon church by a mother and son who claimed they were abused by a church leader, saying the statute of limitations had run out.
In a 2000 lawsuit listing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a co-defendant, the mother and son claimed George Tilson abused both of them when they were children, saying the church knew of his history of abuse but failed to tell police or other officials.
Tilson served as a “high priest,” which is not a member of the church’s clergy but is a term used to describe someone who is “deserving of the trust of its members,” according to the lawsuit.
The Utah Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit Thursday, saying the statute of limitations had run out on the woman’s claims of negligence and breach of trust. She alleged she was abused in 1976.
The lower court dismissed the son’s claims because legal action for negligently permitting sexual abuse had to be brought against a “living person.” Many of the church leaders who placed Tilson in his positions of authority in the 1960s and 1970s are deceased.
The church disputes all of the allegations and “is gratified that the Court of Appeals decided the church cannot be held responsible as an institution when an individual member commits private criminal conduct,” church spokesman Dale Bills said.
Messages left for the plaintiffs’ attorney were not immediately returned.
Tilson was convicted of attempted sexual abuse of a child in 1996. It was not clear if the conviction was related to this lawsuit. He served six months in prison and paid a $1,295 fine. He was excommunicated from the church in 1995.