Youth Minister Sentenced to 52 Years for Molestation

Put safeguards in place to protect children.

Church Law and Tax 1997-03-01

Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers

Key point. Sexual contact with minors can result in lengthy prison sentences.

A Texas court upheld a youth minister’s sentence of 52 years in a state prison for one incident of molesting an adolescent boy. A mother approached her church’s youth minister and asked if he could visit her 11—year—old son who was having behavioral and emotional problems. The youth minister agreed to help the boy and visited with him on several occasions over the next few months. The youth minister eventually asked the mother if she would allow her son to spend the night at his apartment. The mother agreed after the youth minister assured her that other children would be present. In fact, the boy was the only child who came to the apartment. During that evening the youth minister sexually molested the boy. The boy reported the incident a year later to a counselor, and the counselor immediately informed the authorities. The youth minister was found guilty by a jury of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 52 years in a state prison. The minister appealed his conviction on a number of grounds, including the allegedly inappropriate closing statements of the prosecuting attorney during the trial. The prosecuting attorney made the following remarks:

How long will you tolerate that boy having to live with his manhood being stolen …. How long will this be tolerated? What kind of unnatural sexual attraction was going on out there? What kind of a person is sexually attracted to an 11—year—old boy? And what kind of person leads this lady to believe that other boys were going to be there and then they’re not? What kind of a person gets him to spend the night? And what did [the minister] do to stops unnatural, perverted, sexual attraction? Nothing. When did he do something? When he got caught. When did he get counseling? When he got caught. And so the question is, how much child abuse will you tolerate? How long will you tolerate 11—year—old boys being molested? How long will you tolerate 11—year—old boys’ lives being ruined?

A state appeals court ruled that these remarks were appropriate, and it upheld the minister’s conviction. What is the significance of this case to other ministers and churches? First, it demonstrates the potentially devastating consequences to persons who molest children. Not only did the minister lose his position, but he may spend most if not all of the rest of his life in prison for a singe act of molestation. Second, the case illustrates the importance of establishing boundaries or limits on the activities of church workers. This tragic incident might have been avoided had the minister’s employing church adopted a policy prohibiting children, whether individually or in a group, from spending the night at the unmarried youth minister’s home. Many incidents of molestation have occurred in the homes or apartments of youth workers. Churches should adopt policies prohibiting youth workers (ministers or laypersons) from inviting minors over to their homes-unless strict safeguards are present, such as the presence of other adults. Such policies not only protect minors from acts of molestation, but they also protect the church from legal liability and protect youth workers from false accusations. Hoffman v. State, 922 S.W.2d 663 (Tex. App. 1996). [ Negligent Supervision]

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