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Executive Director Mark Prater Effectively Calls Victims of Sexual Abuse Liars on Behalf of All Sovereign Grace Leaders

Mark Prater is the Executive Director for Sovereign Grace Churches, formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Yesterday, he put out a statement declaring all the accusations in the civil lawsuit against C.J. Mahaney, John Loftness and Gary Ricucci were untrue.  This was not based upon any presentation of facts or refutation of evidence.     

A little background.  The lawsuit was dismissed by two lower courts due to the statute of limitations for the Maryland plaintiffs/victims, a lack of jurisdiction for the Virginia plaintiffs/victims, and the untimely filing of the second appeal by their lawyers.  A petition was made to the Maryland Court of Appeals to review the appellate court’s decision.  Unfortunately, the high court decided not to hear the case due to the legal realities mentioned.  It was closed on September 22. 

That means NONE of the allegations in the lawsuit were ever examined or shown to be false.  In fact, every one of the allegations could well be true.  The lawsuit wasn’t dismissed, or not heard, because the charges lacked merit or substance.  Sovereign Grace leaders like Mark Prater have repeatedly failed to make that clear.  In layman’s terms, the lawsuit was dismissed on technicalities. 

I have included Prater’s “An Open Letter to Sovereign Grace Churches” at the end of this post and interspersed general comments.  I want to major on one point however.  It is found in this section. 

“There were allegations made in the civil suit against current pastors of Sovereign Grace churches, namely John Loftness, Gary Ricucci, and C.J. Mahaney.  I want to be clear regarding these men: We believe these allegations are not true.”  

Notice Prater doesn’t say “I believe these allegations are not true.”  He says, “We believe these allegations are not true.”  For whom is he speaking?  He makes it clear in his opening paragraph.  The entire leadership of Sovereign Grace Churches. 

“The dismissal of this case is a significant moment for everyone involved, and may be the subject of much conversation in and beyond our churches.  On behalf of Sovereign Grace’s leadership, there are some thoughts I want to contribute to that discussion.” 

The most important thought he contributes to the discussion is this one.  “We believe these allegations are not true.”  That means the entire leadership structure for SGC believes the allegations are false.  Not some of them.  All of them.  Prater’s thoughts on the matter represent the perspective of all Sovereign Grace leaders.  He is speaking on their behalf.  His emphatic declaration is their emphatic declaration.  Once again, the denomination has declared C.J. Mahaney innocent of all wrong doing.  The same is true for John Loftness, former Chairman of the Board, and Gary Ricucci, current Director of Student Care at the Sovereign Grace Pastors College. 

There is a three tiered authority structure in Sovereign Grace Churches.  The national Council of Elders which has the highest authority.  It is comprised of one representative from each church in SGC.  Typically the senior pastor.  Next comes the Executive Committee.  They follow the directives of the Council of Elders.  For example, here is what Phil Sasser, the Director of Church Governance, wrote Jim Britt, one of the former pastors. 

“The most significant change in our polity is that we are now elder led.  The Council of Elders is the highest authority.  Most significantly, it is not the ExComm [Executive Committee]. … The BCO [Book of Church Order] does have place for apostolic leadership, but it is not the ExComm.  It is in Regional Leaders and the Leadership Team.  But even they cannot ultimately overrule the CoE [Council of Elders].” (June 23, 2013)

After the Council of Elders and the Executive Committee comes the Leadership Team.  Mark Prater is the Executive Director of the Executive Committee and the head of the Leadership Team.  It’s complicated but that’s how it works.  Hardly a New Testament model for church government. 

The Executive Committee is supposed to be comprised of nine men.  It is down to seven.  Keith Collins of Lakeview Christian Center (New Orleans, LA) recently resigned and Rich Richardson was moved over to the Leadership Team as Director of Global Mission.  Here are the current rosters. 

The Executive Committee 

  1. Paul Buckley, Chairman, King of Grace Church, Haverhill, MA
  2. Warren Boettcher, Sovereign Grace Church, Marlton, NJ
  3. Wayne Brooks, Grace Church of Orlando, Winter Garden, FL
  4. Mickey Connolly, CrossWay Community Church Charlotte, NC
  5. Andy Farmer, Covenant Fellowship Church, Glen Mills, PA
  6. Ken Mellinger, Living Hope Church, Harrisburg, PA
  7. Jon Payne, Redemption Hill Church, Round Rock, TX 

The Leadership Team 

  1. Mark Prater – Executive Director, Covenant Fellowship Church, Glen Mills, PA
  2. Craig Cabaniss – Director of Church Development, Grace Church, Dallas, TX
  3. Ian McConnell – Director of Church Planting and Mission, Grace City Church of the Northeast, Philadelphia, PA
  4. Jeff Purswell – Director of Theology & Training, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Louisville, KY
  5. Bob Kauflin – Director of Music & Worship Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Louisville, KY
  6. Phil Sasser – Director of Church Governance, Sovereign Grace Church, Apex, NC
  7. Tommy Hill – Director of Finance & Administration, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Louisville, KY
  8. Rich Richardson - Director of Global Mission, Sovereign Grace Church of Gilbert, Gilbert, AZ  

There are 78 churches in the denomination according to the website.  Each with one pastor acting as a representative for his eldership (two pastors for churches with adult memberships of over 500) on the national Council of Elders.  Altogether these seven Executive Committee members, eight Leadership Team members, and 78 pastors throughout Sovereign Grace Churches, have declared through their elected spokesman’s, Mark Prater, that the extensive testimony of victims, families and witnesses against C.J. Mahaney, John Loftness and Gary Ricucci are all lies!

What do they base this belief upon?  Extensive interaction with the victims?  Cooperation with law enforcement?  A careful study of the court transcripts from the Nathaniel Morales trial?  The police reports?  An independent investigation like Covenant Life Church has done?  The interviewing witnesses like Grant Layman and Rachel Paci?  Talking to the family members of victims?  No, none of the above!  They just believe it!

I believe in Jesus Christ because the evidence for his Resurrection is indisputable.  These men believe in the innocence of Mahaney, Loftness, and Ricucci like people believe in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.  They are leading every person in Sovereign Grace Churches astray!   

The word “Defendants” appears 198 times in the lawsuit called the Second Amended Complaint.  The majority of the time it includes Mahaney, Loftness or Ricucci.  Loftness is also referred to 53 times by name, Mahaney 13 times, and Ricucci 12 times.  There are hundreds of allegations against them in the lawsuit. 

And yet, Mark Prater, the Council of Elders, the Executive Committee, and the Leadership Team say they are untrue.  They don’t say they are errant, misguided or exaggerated.  They don’t say some are true, some are false, and some are a mixture.  They say all are untrue.  That means these things never happened.  They were made up by the victims, parents and siblings.  They are lies.  These allegations of fact are outrageous fabrications. 

Here are a just a few of those outrageous lies found in the Second Amended Complaint according to Mark Prater.  

Victim James Roberts

33.  During the 1982/1984 timeframe, Plaintiff Roberts knew Defendant Loftness as the principal of the School.  Some time after the molestation, Plaintiff Roberts approached Defendant Loftness and told him that David Adams had molested him.  Defendant Loftness directed Plaintiff Roberts, an elementary school child, to re-enact the molestation. 

34.  From the date of this report to present, Defendant Loftness failed to inform Plaintiff Roberts’ parents of the molestation.  Nor did Defendant Loftness abide by his mandatory reporting obligations to report the molestation or take any steps whatsoever to prevent David Adams from having access to children for abusive purposes.  Instead, Defendant Loftness required Plaintiff Roberts, a child, to attend a meeting with himself and David Adams.  Plaintiff Roberts was directed by Defendant Loftness, the principal of his school, to “forgive” Adams for the molestation. 

35.  From 1982/1984 to the present, Defendant Loftness conspired with David Adams and the other Defendants to cover up David Adams’ pedophilia.  As a result of the conspiracy, David Adams had access to and did molest other children, including his daughter, which is discussed below.

44.  Beginning in November 1987 and continuing to present, Defendant Loftness conspired with David Adams and the other Defendants to prevent the police from learning about David Adams’ prior molestation of Plaintiff James Roberts.

Victim Heather Thompson-Bryant

59.  On one occasion during the 1985/1986 school year, Defendant Loftness, Griney and a third person [Gary Ricucci] isolated Plaintiff Thompson along with two other girls attending the school.  Defendants took the children to a room within the school, and directed them to take off their underwear.  Defendant Loftness pulled a plastic rod along Plaintiff Thompson’s left leg and through her vagina.  He then began to hit her bottom.

Victim Jessica Roberts-Thomas

87.  During the 1983/1984 school year, Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas was five years old and in kindergarten.  At that time, Defendant Loftness was serving as the School principal as well as serving as a pastor in CLC.  Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas was in kindergarten at the school, with Griney as her teacher.  Defendant Loftness entered the class, and took Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas out of class and to a separate room that had a window.  There was a man unknown to Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas standing outside the window watching her and Defendant Loftness.  Defendant Loftness directed Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas to bend over the desk and pull down her underwear.  Defendant Loftness stood silently behind Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas for quite some time.  Then Defendant Loftness began to beat Plaintiff with a white cord for a lengthy period of time.  Defendant Loftness stopped beating Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas and she tried to pull up her underwear.  Defendant Loftness directed her not to do so, and walked away, leaving Plaintiff there for quite some time.  Defendant Loftness returned, and began hitting Plaintiff again with the white cord.  Defendant Loftness then inserted the white cord into her vagina.

Victims Jessica Roberts-Thomas, Heather Thompson-Bryant, and Unnamed Girl

90.  During the 1985/1986 school year, Defendant Loftness, Griney and Defendant Ricucci brought Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas into an empty room with two other girls.  Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas recognized the girls, one of whom was Plaintiff Thompson. (The other is not being named here to protect her privacy.)  Defendants directed the girls to strip off their underwear, and lay across desks. Defendant Loftness beat Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas on her bare buttocks.  Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas heard the unnamed girl crying, and saw Griney hitting her on her bare buttocks.  Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas turned over her shoulder to look for Plaintiff Thompson, and realized Defendant Ricucci had taken her out of the room.  Defendant Loftness continued to beat Plaintiff Roberts-Thomas’ bare buttocks, and then he inserted his fingers into her vagina.

Victim Karl Koe

107.  In 1996, [name removed], the son of [a pastor in Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax], began to molest Karl Koe, then six years old and living in Virginia.  [The pastor’s son] isolated Karl Koe in various locations, including his home, Karl Koe’s home, outdoors and the Fairfax Church bathrooms.  [The son] kissed Karl Koe, and used his hands to fondle Karl Koe’s penis and anus under his clothes.  [The son] forced Karl Koe to put his hands down [the son’s] pants and fondle his penis and his anus.  [The son] also frequently exposed himself to Karl Koe, and forced Karl Koe to do the same.  [The son] would press his nakedness against Karl Koe as he fondled Koe’s penis and anus.

108.  In 1997, Karl Koe informed his parents that he was being repeatedly molested by [the pastor’s son].  His parents, members of the Fairfax Church, told Defendants [Frank] Ecelbarger, [Lou] Gallo, [Mark] Mullery and V. [Vince] Hinders about [the son’s] repeated molestation of Karl Koe.

109.  Defendants Ecelbarger, Gallo, Mullery and V. Hinders, conspiring together and with Defendants Mahaney and Loftness, violated their mandatory reporting obligations and conspired together to cover up [the pastor’s son’s] molestation of children.

110.  Defendant V. Hinders misrepresented to the parents of Karl Koe that the Church had taken care of the matter by requiring [the pastor’s son] to attend a different church service than Karl Koe.

111.  In fact, after Defendants were put on notice of the ongoing molestation, [the pastor’s son] continued to molest Karl Koe in the bathrooms at the Fairfax Church.  Approximately forty percent of [the son’s] molestations of Karl Koe occurred after Defendants had been put on express notice that [the son] was molesting young children in the Fairfax Church.

112.  Defendants Ecelbarger, Mullery, V. Hinders and D. [Dave] Hinders conspired with Defendant Loftness, Mahaney, and upon information and belief the other individual Defendants to cover up [the pastor’s son’s] ongoing molestation of young children and to violate the laws on mandatory reporting.  Defendant Mahaney and Loftness imposed “church discipline” on [the pastor] for failing to control his [son].  This conspiracy remains ongoing. 

Victim Grace Goe

152.  As Donna Doe was being subjected to the terror of living with her pedophiliac father, Defendants were also forcing Plaintiff Grace Goe to endure constant physical and sexual abuse from her father [Charlie Llewellyn], a wealthy man who was and remains a prominent member of the Covenant Life Church.

153.  Grace Goe’s father repeatedly beat her on her naked buttocks so harshly that she bled and bruised.  Her father would then submerge her into an ice bath to hide the physical manifestations of the beatings.

154.  Grace Goe’s father also repeatedly sexually abused her, making her rub his feet, which he then inserted into her vagina.  He also molested her on several occasions by rubbing his hands over her breasts, at times outside her clothes and at times against her bare skin under her clothes.

155.  Grace Goe’s father engaged in the physical and sexual abuse towards the other children, including the male children, whose penises he repeatedly fondled.

156.  Defendants Ricucci and Layman learned of the ongoing abuse no later than in or around 1997, when Grace Goe was 13.  At that time, a housekeeper named Mary Burcham reported the ongoing abuse of the Goe children to Defendants Ricucci and Layman, and discovery will show other Defendants.  Defendants Ricucci and Layman met with Grace Goe and her older female sibling, who reported the fact of the abuse to the Individual Defendants and sought protection from their abusive father.

157.  Rather than report the ongoing abuse to the secular authorities or take any steps to stop the abuse, Defendants informed the father that his children had reported the abuse.  This led to further abuse by the father.  In exchange for the conspiracy of silence, the abusive father paid to send Defendants Mahaney, Ricucci and Layman and their families on vacation to the Kiawah Islands, South Carolina.


I can’t imagine the fresh pain being experienced by all the victims and their families who have accused Mahaney, Loftness and Ricucci of sex crimes and/or criminal conspiracies knowing all the leaders of Sovereign Grace Churches consider them liars.

Here’s something else to know.  The Second Amended Complaint was filed May 14, 2013.  That was 17 months ago.  Since then more victims have come forward and reported to police. 

Prater says, “Let me be clear that we deny—in the strongest terms possible—that any Sovereign Grace leaders conspired to cover up abuse as alleged in this lawsuit.”  He confines himself to the lawsuit but the lawsuit doesn’t begin to capture the extent of sexual abuse that has occurred nor the criminal conspiracies that have operated going back to 1980. 

Take for instance the Nathaniel Morales’ trial.  Morales was convicted of abusing three boys in Covenant Life Church under C.J. Mahaney’s leadership that are not mentioned in the lawsuit.  Grant Layman, Mahaney’s brother-in-law and employee at the time, repeatedly testified that the pastors of Covenant Life Church never reported abuse they knew or suspected was being committed by Morales to law enforcement.

Sunday night, Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland has its first Members Meeting where Joshua Harris and the pastors have promised to begin addressing all the allegations in the lawsuit and all the incriminating testimony that came out in the two Morales trials.  If they follow through on their promises, Mahaney, Loftness and Ricucci will be exposed as participants in criminal conspiracies pertaining to Morales and other known or suspected abusers. 

Prater, Mahaney, Loftness, and Ricucci know this is true.  I believe that is why Prater came out with his statement on Friday.  He is not waiting, nor is the Council of Elders, Executive Committee, or Leadership Team, for the Covenant Life pastors to incriminate Mahaney, Loftness and Ricucci.  They plan to stand by their statement that all the allegations are untrue and not respond to anything that comes out of Covenant Life Church.  

In the next section, I quote Prater’s letter and respond with comments in bold letters.


An Open Letter to Members of Sovereign Grace Churches 
October 9, 2014 by Mark Prater 

Dear Friends, 

On September 22, Maryland’s highest appellate court denied the plaintiffs’ request for the court to review the lower appellate court’s dismissal of the civil lawsuit that was brought against Sovereign Grace in October 2012.  The dismissal of this case is a significant moment for everyone involved, and may be the subject of much conversation in and beyond our churches.  On behalf of Sovereign Grace’s leadership, there are some thoughts I want to contribute to that discussion.

Comment:  The dismissal of the case won’t be the object of “much conversation” but   Prater’s papal encyclical declaring all accusations against Mahaney, Loftness and Ricucci untrue will be.

But before I do, I want to thank you for the patience and support you have shown to your local churches and to Sovereign Grace during the last two years.  In the midst of an aggressive lawsuit you have faithfully served and prayed to keep your local churches strong and by extension you have strengthened many others.  So thank you for your “labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). 

What Matters Now 

I realize that the court’s dismissal of the suit does not answer the question, “What now?”  Let me share with you how I’m responding to that question. 

Comment:  “What now?”  Sovereign Grace Churches is about to get hit by a Mack Truck.  

First, there is my response as a Christian.  Sexual abuse is a heinous sin which causes harm to all victims of abuse and their families. Therefore it is right that we grieve with them, do all we can to care for them, and pray that God would grant them the comfort and hope found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Comment:  SG leaders are not grieving, caring and praying for James Roberts, Heather Thompson-Bryant, Jessica Roberts-Thomas, the unnamed girl, Karl Koe, Grace Goe or others victims and families in the lawsuit.  They are calling them liars.   

And SG leaders are not grieving, caring, and praying for the victims of Nathaniel Morales.  No leader or pastor from Sovereign Grace even attended the trial.  And C.J. Mahaney has made no effort to contact Morales’ other victims around the country because C.J. did not report him in 1991, 1993, 2007 or ever. 

And as repeatedly evidenced in their stories and in the lawsuit, victims and their families were repeatedly silenced, coerced, unsympathetically corrected, and left to suffer on their own.  

Second, there is my response as Executive Director for Sovereign Grace.  The specific allegations made against Sovereign Grace in this suit were those of conspiracy claiming that we covered up abuse.  Let me be clear that we deny—in the strongest terms possible—that any Sovereign Grace leaders conspired to cover up abuse as alleged in this lawsuit.  There were allegations made in the civil suit against current pastors of Sovereign Grace churches, namely John Loftness, Gary Ricucci, and C.J. Mahaney.  I want to be clear regarding these men: We believe these allegations are not true.  I along with the entire Leadership Team continue to fully commend the character of these men and their ministry to the body of Christ.  In addition, the elders in their local churches continue to commend their character and ongoing service as pastors. 

Comment:  There is enough hot air in this paragraph to fill a transatlantic balloon.  That’s great to hear, the entire Leadership Team “continues to fully commend” Mahaney and Ricucci when Purswell, Kauflin and Hill (3 of the 7) work for, or with Mahaney and Ricucci in Louisville.  They all depend on Mahaney for fame and fortune.  That’s accountability, C.J. style.  

The men on the Leadership Team have each proven themselves to be corrupt.  They are on the team because each has covered up for Mahaney for a long time.  In the case of Kauflin, Purswell and Hill, forever.  The personality cult of C.J. remains intact.  Prater and associates continue to call for veneration.  Members must be convinced that Mahaney, Loftness and Ricucci are men above reproach.  It is critical to the survival of SGC.     

While a response to allegations is necessary, our priorities would be out of sorts if we were only concerned with vindicating ourselves in the public arena.  Yes, we have been the target of misinformed critique in both the secular and Christian media, and more will likely come.  I pray that God gives us all grace to respond wisely and biblically.  But regardless of the public discourse, we are strongly committed to ensuring a safe environment for the children in our churches. 

Comment:  Prater claims a response to the allegations is necessary in order to vindicate Sovereign Grace Churches, Mahaney, Loftness and Ricucci but then offers no response except to say, “We believe these allegations are not true.”  That is not a response and that doesn’t vindicate them in any way, shape or form.  It is just a vacuous denial of no substance.  That is the same way they handled my allegations in the documents.  

Mahaney, Prater, and Sovereign Grace leaders have always put themselves forward as the real victims.  They have been “the target of misinformed critique in both the secular and Christian media, and more will likely come.”  That’s a typical response.  The media’s targeted critique is wrong.  SG has done no wrong.  The criticism is unfounded and underserved.  SGC is being victimized.  Mahaney is being persecuted.  

If Sovereign Grace is “strongly committed to ensuring a safe environment” they will start by cooperating with law enforcement and reporting all suspected and known abusers from the past.  Not just in Gaithersburg and Fairfax but in every church.     

Moving Forward 

I’m personally grateful that Sovereign Grace churches have taken the protection of children and care for victims seriously for many years.  All church leaders today should have a heightened awareness of the steps they can take to create safe environments including the reporting of abuse and cooperating with civil authorities to prosecute any abuser.  We continue to evaluate how we can grow in these areas. 

Comment:  This is hype.  Sovereign Grace churches have not “taken the protection of children and care for victims seriously for many years.”  I left SG in 2009.  A minority of the churches did criminal background checks and had child protection polices for Sunday morning.  No one had written policies for protecting children in other church venues, reporting suspected predators to police, warning families in harm’s way, alerting members to the presence of known predators, getting the kind of help victims needed to recover, etc.  And to take a phrase from Prater, “Let me be clear –in the strongest terms possible,” Sovereign Grace is still NOT cooperating with civil authorities. 

While it is the responsibility of each local Sovereign Grace church to provide child protection policies and effective care, we want to do whatever we can centrally to serve our churches, particularly in the area of training.  To that end, Sovereign Grace has arranged to provide child sexual abuse awareness training for our pastors and leaders at our Pastors Conference later this month.  This training will be led by an attorney from MinistrySafe, an organization dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse in ministry contexts.  We have also retained the services of Love & Norris, a law firm associated with MinistrySafe.  They are evaluating child protection policies in some of our local churches, and providing recommendations for improvement.  Lastly, we are providing MinistrySafe membership for all of our churches, with their 5-part safety system.  This gives our local churches access to the best training and safety measures available. 

Comment:  For the last two years, I’ve repeatedly begged Sovereign Grace Churches to have experts in to train them and to write policies and procedures that can be used in the local churches.  They chose to do neither.  It wasn’t a priority.  Now, they are finally getting around to it I hope.  In the end, however, it comes down to integrity.  Corrupt pastors can still abuse or cover up for sex abusers even though they have policies and procedures to the contrary.  Until SG leaders and pastors come clean regarding the past, they should not be trusted to be clean in the future.  What happened in Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax also happened in other SG churches. 

Sovereign Grace Churches exist because of Jesus Christ and our passion is to make Him known.  Our collective efforts to provide safety for our children is not a redefinition of our gospel mission, but a part of demonstrating Christ’s love to our children and keeping our witness before a watching world. 

Comment:  Mark Prater is not concerned about restoring the witness of Sovereign Grace Churches through repentance, confession and restitution.  Why?  Because it was never lost.  He wants the denomination to keep its witness before a watching world. 

Our Shared Effort 

Over the past 14 months I have traveled to 31 of our churches and spoken with many members and leaders.  There isn’t a group of people in the world with whom I would rather labor in advancing the gospel than you.  Please join me in continuing to make our churches places where children are loved, protected, and given every opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Comment:  Over the past 14 months on these 31 visits, Mark Prater should have been confessing the sins of Sovereign Grace leaders instead of covering up the past with spin and propaganda.

Thank you for your partnership in proclaiming and advancing the gospel in your communities and around the world.  May our collective labors for the gospel bring great glory to our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Comment:  Sovereign Grace Ministries has brought great reproach to the glory of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

With appreciation for our gospel partnership,

Mark Prater
Executive Director


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