British ex-Mormon accuses church leader of fraud

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A former Mormon is using the British judicial system to bring to light what he perceives as fundamental lies in the faith's tenets.

Thomas Phillips has filed a criminal complaint in London accusing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Thomas Monson of fraud. A British magistrate signed the summons Friday, ordering Monson to appear before the court in March.

However, British legal scholars say it's unlikely Monson will be forced to attend any hearing or that the lawsuit will move forward, according to The Arizona Republic, which first reported the story.

"I'm frankly shocked that a magistrate has issued it (the summons)," said Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor in England and author on religious freedom.

Phillips is a former regional church leader in England who left the church in 2004 and now runs a website that challenges church history and doctrine.

In the summons, he lays out seven claims made by Mormons that he believes are false. They include the beliefs that the Book of Mormon was translated from ancient gold plates by church founder Joseph Smith, and that all humans descend from two people, Adam and Eve, who lived approximately 6,000 years ago.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said officials occasionally receive documents like these that seek to "draw attention to an individual's personal grievances or to embarrass Church leaders."

"These bizarre allegations fit into that category," Hawkins said in a statement.

Monson, 86, has been president of the Mormon church since February 2008. As the highest leader in the faith, he is considered a prophet. The Salt Lake City-based faith has 15 million members worldwide, including 188,000 in the United Kingdom.

Monson is not personally accused of committing any fraud but is listed in the lawsuit as a representative of the global church.

Phillips told The Associated Press by phone from his home in Portugal that he took the legal route after trying other methods for years to get church leaders to answer questions about parts of the doctrine. Phillips said he's protecting children raised in the church and standing up for Mormons who are branded as evildoers for questioning church fundamentals.

Phillips brought the lawsuit under a British law enacted in 2006 that makes it illegal to make false representations for profit.

"The church perpetuates these lies to maintain its tithing stream of income," said Phillips, who spent 35 years in the church. He served as a bishop of his local congregation and president of a grouping of congregations.

Two separate summons were sent to Monson on behalf of two different men who claim they've been paying tithes.

Addison said British law precludes challenges to theological beliefs in secular courts.

"I'm sitting here with an open mouth," the former crown prosecutor told the Republic. "I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point."

The summons are bizarre and should be set aside in "10 seconds," British solicitor Harvey Kass told the Republic.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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