Ousted Auditor Sues Adventist Church: Denies Charges of Adultery, Abuse
Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
For 34 years inside the Seventh-day Adventist Church, David E. Dennis of Silver Spring preached the faith and kept the books, moving up to chief auditor of the worldwide church.
Now he's outside, fired and suing the church leadership for defamation and breach of contract.
The church says he's a minister, defrocked and let go in 1995 for adultery and sexual abuse of a minor. He says the charge was "trumped up" to thwart his exposure of corruption at the top.
It has not been a pretty sight for any church, both sides agree. But now, two years after the lawsuit was filed, a judge may finally decide whether the dispute will go to a jury trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
"No church employee was ever so defamed," Mr. Dennis said.
Church officials referred inquiries to their lawyers.
"There is no evidence in support of Mr. Dennis' claim that he was terminated because of his work" as auditor, Ellen G. Draper, attorney for the church, said in a statement. He was fired "because of the allegations of Jane Doe," the woman accusing him of childhood and adult sexual relations.
The church, with world headquarters in Silver Spring, is on its third motion to dismiss the case as an internal disciplinary matter.
The court has no business intervening, the church claims, because the First Amendment blocks "secular courts from adjudicating claims that intrude on matters of church doctrine, discipline, policy or governance."
Mr. Dennis is suing the church, three of its top officials and Jane Doe, for $4 million in damages.
If the judge decides that "discovery" of evidence will proceed, the church must produce a mass of internal documents and the therapy records of Jane Doe. Meanwhile, both sides point to developments in their favor.
The church notes that last year a Maryland appeals court dismissed a defamation suit against the Roman Catholic Church. A student for the priesthood had sued the Archdiocese of Baltimore after an internal report on his behavior caused his dismissal.
In the Dennis case, church leaders say they informed the world church of his "moral fall" - involving eight other women besides Jane Doe - because he had already claimed persecution in letters to church members.
Mr. Dennis said Jane Doe, who accused him to his face in closed church hearings, lived with his family during her "emotionally disturbed" childhood, and that in adult therapy she may have created a "false memory" of abuse.
Mr. Dennis has talked with groups that attack the legitimacy of so-called "repressed memory syndrome" therapy, in which adults are helped by a therapist to remember childhood abuse. …