Subscribe by Email

Brent Detwiler's Tweets

Lawsuit claims evangelical church group concealed sex abuse allegations in Md., Va.

This article was carried by the Associated Press and published in newspapers throughout the US.  I had no knowledge of these events while I was part of Sovereign Grace Ministries.   

All cases of child abuse (or spousal abuse) should be reported to civil authorities as a necessary means to prevent future abuse and protect past victims.  That has always been my position.  Perpetrators must face justice and pastors should never prevent this from happening.  

I trust this lawsuit will bring out the truth and result in corrective and punitive measures where warranted.  “Forgiveness” should never be used to pressure a victim into remaining silent or from taking legal action against the abuser.  We are talking about serious crimes.   

If that kind of manipulation occurred, then the responsible pastors are guilty of spiritual abuse and liable to whatever penalties the law prescribes.  C.J. and SGM leaders have a history of protecting the guilty while mistreating the innocent.  

John Loftness, Gary Riccuci and others will now have to give account in a court of law.  Everything will be brought out into the open.  There will be no hiding from prosecution like C.J. did the past 15 months.  If it goes to trial, charges will be heard, depositions taken, a just judge appointed, an impartial jury empaneled, witnesses called, sworn testimony given under the threat of perjury, and cross examination allowed.   

All of these were denied me.  C.J. avoided “jail time” because there was no just proceeding or hearing.  Everything was rigged by the Interim Board.  Not so in this case.  John has covered up for C.J. but C.J. won’t be able to cover up for John if he is guilty as allegedly charged in the lawsuit.  Once more, God is intervening in the affairs of Sovereign Grace Ministries.      

I was contacted by a national reporter today.  I provided him this statement. 

“C.J. was the President and Chairman of SGM when these incidences occurred.  He was also senior pastor of Covenant Life Church – one of the churches cited.  He had knowledge of these matters and certainly would have provided counsel to the CLC pastors.  He has taken no responsibility for any defective handling of either situation.  It is possible the details of these events were covered up to save face.  I was one of five SGM Board Members during this time period and I was never told about any of these cases of sexual abuse.  That information was withheld from me.  

“At the SGM Pastors Conference in 2009, C.J. asked Mark Mullery, the sr. pastor in Fairfax, VA, to make a confession regarding his/the pastors mishandling of the victims.  C.J. took no responsibility and said nothing about his own mishandling of victims in Maryland at Covenant Life Church.  I don’t know the facts concerning these events but I do know C.J. has a history of covering up serious sins and taking no responsibility as the senior leader.  

“C.J. may also have withheld information from me thinking I would advocate for the victims and encourage contact with the law.  In so doing, he may have been trying to keep a lid on things in order to avoid a lawsuit and bad press for pastoral negligence.” (Brent Detwiler, Oct 17, 2012)  

In this lawsuit, C.J. will certainly be questioned under oath.  We’ll find out if my concerns are real or imaginary provided the court allows transcripts in the public domain.  I don’t imagine the plaintiffs are willing to settle out of court unless there is a public confession of wrong doing and remedial steps assigned by the court are implemented in order to prevent further abuse.      


Lawsuit claims evangelical church group concealed sex abuse allegations in Md., Va
ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three female plaintiffs [Jane Doe (pseudonym), Renee Palmer-Gamby, Dara Adams-Sutherland] claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that an evangelical church group covered up allegations of sexual abuse against children, failed to report accusations of misconduct to the police and discouraged its members from cooperating with law enforcement. 

The lawsuit was filed in Maryland state court against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a 30-year-old family of churches, with about 100 congregations.  Most of its churches are in the U.S., but it also has planted churches in about 21 countries. 

The plaintiffs allege a conspiracy spanning more than two decades to conceal sexual abuse committed by church members.  The alleged abuse happened in Maryland and northern Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s.  The lawsuit accuses church representatives of permitting suspected pedophiles to interact with children, supplying them with free legal advice to avoid prosecution and forcing victims to meet with and “forgive” the person that had molested them. 

“The facts show that the Church cared more about protecting its financial and institutional standing than about protecting children, its most vulnerable members,” the lawsuit claims. 

The church did not immediately respond to a written message or to a phone message left on its general voicemail box.  It wasn’t immediately clear if the church had a lawyer.  The suit names as defendants about a half-dozen pastors and church officials [C.J. Mahaney, Gary Ricucci, John Loftness, Grant Layman, David Hinders, Lou Gallo, Frank Ecelbarger, Larry Tomczak] who plaintiffs say were alerted to the accusations but either failed to take action or actively covered them up.  One official said he had not seen the suit and declined comment.  Other defendants either did not immediately respond to phone messages or did not have publicly listed phone numbers. 

In accusing church leaders of turning a blind eye to sexual molestation, the lawsuit bears parallels to the allegations of priest sex abuse and the resulting cover-up that have rocked the Roman Catholic church over the last decade.  But while that scandal centered on sex abuse by priests, the accusations in this case involve molestation by church members instead of clergy. 

Sovereign Grace Ministries grew from its mother church in Gaithersburg, Md., in 1982.  It moved its headquarters this year to Louisville, Ky., where it’s also planting a new church.  The group has struggled in recent years with fractured leadership and criticism over its discipline methods, especially the church’s emphasis on sins, discipline and repentance. 

The suit only covers alleged abuse that occurred in Maryland in northern Virginia, but the church has faced scrutiny on other occasions for its handling of sexual abuse claims, and Susan Burke, a lawyer representing the three plaintiffs, said there are other alleged victims prepared to join a class-action suit. 

For instance, an April report by a non-profit Lutheran mediation group that studied the church for nine months found that while church leaders showed “care and concern” about sex abuse allegations, a number of people interviewed felt the claims were handled irresponsibly and were left with “disappointments and hurts.” 

The lawsuit faults the church’s “Home Group” structure, in which children are provided with day care so their parents can attend services, as fostering a poorly supervised environment that enabled the abuse to occur. 

The lawsuit centers on allegations of three female plaintiffs [Dara Adams-Sutherland and Renee Palmer-Gamby later identified themselves by name in the Second Amended Complaint], each identified by pseudonyms to protect their anonymity. 

One of the three plaintiffs [Jane Doe (pseudonym)], a high school student in Virginia, alleges she was sexually assaulted when she was 3 years old and that the mother of the boy who abused her revealed the molestation to the church.  But church officials discouraged her family from reporting the allegations to police and, instead, repeatedly interviewed the alleged abuser and worked with him and his mother to determine how best to prevent any prosecution and publicity regarding the abuse. 

A second plaintiff [Renee Palmer-Gamby], a college student in Maryland, says she was sexually abused as a toddler by a church member.  She says the church pastor [John Loftness] scolded her parents after they called the police and then tipped off the accused that he had been reported to the police.  She says her parents were instructed to bring her to a meeting with her alleged abuser so they could be “reconciled,” but that she was “visibly scared and crawled under the chair” after being brought into the same room with him. 

The third plaintiff [Dara Adams-Sutherland] says her adoptive father, a member of the church, sexually abused her older sister for three and a half years.  She says the church warned her mother not to pursue a prosecution, then kicked the family out of the church and denied the children reduced tuition to the school.  The man was ultimately prosecuted and imprisoned, the lawsuit says. 

“We view the case as an important step in holding SGM accountable for its misdeeds,” said Burke, the lawyer who represents the three plaintiffs and is also suing the military on behalf of female service members who say they were raped.  “No institution can put its own financial concerns above the needs of vulnerable children.”

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend