by Helen Jung
The Oregonian
Thursday April 09, 2009

A brother and sister are suing a Salem church and the Western Oregon Conference Association of Seventh-day Adventists for alleged sexual abuse in the 1990s by a then-teenage babysitter for the church.

The lawsuit claims the babysitter, a teenage boy at the time, fondled the brother and sister several times while watching the two, who were very young at the time.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday morning in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleges the church knew or should have known about a prior abuse accusation in Washington state against the teen and not have allowed him to serve in positions of trust and authority.

The complaint, which seeks more than $3 million for each plaintiff, states that the abuse occurred both at the East Salem Seventh-day Adventist Church and at the plaintiffs’ home. The brother, now 18, was between 18 months and 3 years old at the time of the alleged abuse. The sister, now 20, was between 4 and 6 years old, the suit says.

The alleged abuser, the lawsuit says, was later convicted in 1995 of child abuse while employed by the Oregon State School for the Blind. He confessed to abusing the brother and sister at the time.

An attorney for the Adventists, Richard J. Whittemore, declined to comment on the case’s specifics.

"We will thoroughly and aggressively investigate this case and try it in court," he said.

The plaintiffs live in Oregon and remain devout Adventists, said their attorney, Kelly Clark, who has sued several religious entities and other organizations on behalf of clients alleging sex-abuse.

Clark said he did not name the alleged abuser in the lawsuit out of deference to a client who felt naming him in the suit could negatively affect his progress in rehabilitation.

But Clark confirmed that the alleged abuser was sentenced in 1995 to 20 years’ probation and ordered into a four- to five-year intensive treatment program at the Oregon State Hospital.

Clark said he is filing the lawsuit now, because the brother just turned 18 and, as an adult, could follow through on his wish to

— Helen Jung; helenjung@news.oregonian.com