BY DENNIS WAGNER (c)2014 USA Today
The leader of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been ordered to appear before a
magistrate in England on fraud charges filed by a disaffected ex-Mormon who
disputes fundamental teachings of the religion, according to documentation
obtained by The Arizona Republic.
But some legal experts in
England say it is unlikely prosecutors would seek to have him extradited, and
they are surprised the summonses were issued at all.
Two summonses direct
Thomas S. Monson of Utah, the church president, to attend a March 14 hearing in
the Westminster Magistrates Court of London to answer accusations that key
tenets of the LDS faith are untrue and have been used to secure financial
The criminal complaint
was lodged by Tom Phillips, a Mormon who said he withdrew from the church after
holding positions in England as bishop, stake president and area executive
secretary. He now serves as managing editor of MormonThink, an online
publication that critiques the church's history and doctrine.
occasionally receives documents like this that seek to draw attention to an
individual's personal grievances or to embarrass church leaders," said
Eric Hawkins, a spokesman at church headquarters in Salt Lake City who said he
had not seen the legal document. "These bizarre allegations fit into that
Legal scholars in England
expressed bewilderment at the summonses, saying British law precludes
challenges to theological beliefs in secular courts.
"I'm sitting here
with an open mouth," said Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor and
author on religious freedom. "I think the British courts will recoil in
horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point. And
I'm frankly shocked that a magistrate has issued it."
Phillips' complaint is based
on the Fraud Act of 2006, a British law that prohibits false representations
made to secure a profit or to cause someone to lose money. Conviction may carry
a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Judge Elizabeth Roscoe
signed the summonses January 31. A court official in London confirmed the
issuance of the paperwork, which directs Monson to answer allegations that
untrue religious precepts were used to obtain tithes comprising 10 percent of
church members' incomes. Two British subjects, Stephen Bloor and Christopher
Ralph, are identified as victims.
Harvey Kass, a British
solicitor, referred to the summons as "bizarre," adding: "I
can't imagine how it got through the court process. It would be set aside
within 10 seconds, in my opinion."
Kass and Addison said
they see no likelihood that the British government would seek to extradite
Monson or that the United States would comply with such a request.