Cover Story

The high cost of negligence

"The high cost of negligence" Continued...

Issue: "Going it alone," Nov. 2, 2013

Jeremy joined the Navy, and Jennifer enrolled at Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. She sought counseling from a university staff member for her trauma, but didn’t find it helpful. Her symptoms, common among abuse survivors, grew worse: She had nightmares, flashbacks, and depression. “I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I was just crashing.”

By her junior year, Jennifer learned her brother had married, and he talked about having children. The possibility of him harming another child terrified Jennifer: “I couldn’t live with that.”

For the first time, Jennifer spoke with her sisters about Jeremy’s abuse. Her younger sister acknowledged similar abuse and agreed to file a police report in Florida in 2010.

Jennifer says most of her family shunned her for reporting, but the authorities in Florida took it seriously. She remembers a prosecutor telling her: “Every adult in your life has failed you.”

But even as her faith began to crack, Jennifer held onto hope. “The Bible talks about God being a father to the fatherless,” she says. “I clung to that passage, even though I didn’t know how it applied to me.”

ADULTS MAY NOT INTEND TO FAIL victims of sexual abuse, but experts say churches make a common mistake of trying to handle abuse allegations on their own.

Sometimes that’s because church leaders don’t realize many states mandate they report suspected or known child sexual abuse. Even in cases where the law might not mandate a report, Victor Vieth of the National Child Protection Training Center says every adult should ask: “Even if I’m not mandated to report, is someone else going to be in danger if I don’t?”

The question is relevant to current cases in some evangelical churches. Nathaniel Morales faces a November trial in Maryland for charges of molesting four teenage boys while a member of Covenant Life Church (CLC) in Gaithersburg, Md., in the late 1980s. 

CLC was part of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) until it withdrew from the association of churches last year. In May, a Maryland judge dismissed a civil lawsuit against SGM that accused some church leaders of covering up rampant child sexual abuse. The case is on appeal.

The charges Morales faces this month in Maryland comprise a separate, criminal case. That case began in 2009 when a former member of CLC reported to police Morales sexually abused him as a teenager in the late 1980s. 

The police report says the alleged victim first disclosed his abuse to his parents when he was 22 or 23 years old—about five years after he says the abuse ended. 

The report says Grant Layman, a pastor at CLC,  said he had “vague recollections” from 15 to 20 years ago of speaking with the alleged victim’s father about the abuse. The report also states Layman and another CLC pastor, Ernest Boisvert, confronted Morales about the allegations, though it’s unclear when those conversations took place. 

If the conversations occurred after the victim was 18, it’s likely church leaders weren’t mandated by law to report the abuse. But apart from legal questions, it’s unclear if the church attempted to advise other church members or other congregations about Morales’ history.

When police arrested Morales in February on abuse charges that included 10 counts of molesting four boys, he was living in Nevada and working as a pastor. According to the police report, he had married a woman with five sons from a previous marriage.

A statement on the CLC website in February said the church didn’t know about abuse allegations against Morales until “many years after the abuse when an adult who had been victimized as a child came forward.” CLC spokesman Don Nalle said he couldn’t comment on questions about Morales because of the civil lawsuit against the church.

The Affirming Pentecostal Church (APC), a small association of Pentecostal churches that affirms homosexuality among its members, listed Nate Morales as an associate bishop in 2011. The group’s website included a blog post and photo of Morales during the same year. 

Earlier this year Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation of about 15,000 in Plano, Texas, faced questions about how it handled a past allegation of abuse. Its former youth worker, John Langworthy, pleaded guilty in Mississippi to five of eight counts of molestation involving five boys in the early 1980s. A judge gave Langworthy a 50-year suspended sentence.

Mike Buster, an executive pastor at Prestonwood, told a local news station in 2011 the church received an allegation in 1989 that Langworthy had “acted inappropriately with a teenage student.” The pastor said the church dismissed Langworthy, and that “the elected officers dealt with the matter firmly and forthrightly.” Buster didn’t say whether church officers filed a police report. WORLD requested further comment, and Buster replied in an email, saying nothing had changed from the church’s original statement.

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