Lynette Earl Franco wanted comfort and counseling when she went to her Mormon bishop after realizing she had been sexually abused as a child by a boy in her congregation. But the young woman says her bishop, his superior and the unlicensed therapist they recommended told her to forget about the abuse - and keep her allegations to herself.
Years later, it is up to the Utah Supreme Court to decide if Franco has a case against her advisers and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
If the court - which consists of five Mormon justices - says yes, it could open the door to other complaints by giving courts the right to judge the actions of a religious official.
"How do you distinguish between a cleric acting as a cleric and a cleric who still has duties to make sure other people don't get hurt unintentionally by their actions?" Justice Christine M. Durham asked during oral arguments on Monday. Lawyers for the church say the courts can't make that distinction; Franco's lawyer argues they can.
Failure to report abuse has haunted the Mormon church recently. One Salt Lake-area bishop who allegedly didn't tell police when a girl in his ward was molested faces criminal charges, and another had his case dismissed Monday after successfully arguing the incident his parishioner described didn't constitute abuse.
No criminal charges have been filed in Franco's case.
Franco, now 22, says she was abused at the age of 7 by a boy four years older than her, but repressed any memory of it until she was 14.
She says she told her mother and then a school counselor before turning to her Mormon bishop, Dennis Casaday, and stake president David Christensen, who is responsible for several congregations.
The charges say Casaday and Christensen told Franco to forgive the young man - who was then 18 and ready to embark on the two-year mission expected of Mormon men - and "forget the incident ever happened."
They also urged her not to go to the police, according to Franco's lawyer, Ed Montgomery. When Franco asked for therapy, the bishop reportedly recommended an unlicensed counselor who echoed the same words.
"Their intent was to cover it up and to make sure this sexual predator would be OK to go on a mission and it wouldn't affect his priesthood status," Montgomery said. "These church agents - the bishop and the stake president - just made a choice: Are we going to protect the child molester at the expense of the victim? Yes."
Casaday and Christensen disagree with some of Franco's account, but their lawyers are not discussing details. The Mormon church also will not comment until the court reaches its decision, church spokesman Dale Bills said.
But in court, an attorney for the church, Casaday and Christensen said Franco has no basis for her accusations because any claim of clergy malpractice would be an unconstitutional infringement of the boundary between church and state.
That's why 3rd District Judge J. Dennis Frederick originally rejected Franco's claims two years ago.
In appealing to the Supreme Court, Franco's attorney has dropped the malpractice allegation, focusing instead on charges of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Church lawyers say those claims are "little more than clergy malpractice in disguise."
"This case clearly seeks to regulate the clergy in their role as clergy," church attorney Randy T. Austin argued Monday.
Church attorneys argued in briefs that allowing judicial inquiries "into the intentions and motivations" of clergy would inhibit frank and open counseling sessions.