Church sued for allegedly turning deaf ear to abused child
A 12-year-old girl and her mother are suing the Nazarene Church on the Hill in McMinnville, alleging church employees failed to act when the girl told them she was being abused by her biological father.
According to the $5.2 million lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court on May 23, the girl was in kindergarten through third grade when she told teachers, aides, counselors and clergy at the church about the abuse.
The accused molester is the girl's biological father, who allegedly gave his daughter herpes as a result of his assaults, managed to flee before the allegations were brought to light, said Randall Vogt, the Portland attorney representing the plaintiffs. "No criminal charges were ever brought, and he dissappared," he said. "We have no notion of where he is."
Vogt said church employees were required under Oregon law to report what the girl told them to legal authorities and church officials. Even the girl's parents were not told, he said.
Both the girl's mother and stepfather are licensed mental health professionals who were working at the church, located at 700 N.W. Hill St., six years ago when the girl allegedly first reported her father's crimes. Her stepfather was an assistant pastor, and her mother had a private practice in the same building.
"Both of them were physically at the church and co-mingling with the people who knew about this," Vogt said.
The girl chose not to tell her parents directly, he said. "She wanted to protect her father, who she still had feelings for," Vogt added. "Kids' behavior is not always rational, and kids are unpredictable and ... kids."
Jeff Cox, the business administrator at Church on the Hill, said he has been taking calls from reporters since the lawsuit was filed, but there's nothing he can say about the case. "We are unable to comment on any pending litigation," he said.
He added only that not being able to reassure parishioners and the community is emotionally stressful. "It is really difficult," Cox said. "We may end up later having something from the church council, but that's all we can say right now. We want to be polite and above board in our communication about this, but that's all we have at the moment."
According to the lawsuit, the girl's biological parents divorced in 2006. Although her father's parental rights were terminated, at the time of the divorce, he was still supposedly allowed extensive unsupervised visits -- including some overnight visits -- in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
The abuse allegedly continued for two years. "As a parishioner, the plaintiff had frequent and regular contact and professional interactions with various teachers, teachers' aides, counselors and clergymen at the Church on the Hill," the court documents state. "During those contacts, plaintiff revealed to various Church on the Hill employees and agents that she had been subjected to sexual intercourse."
Vogt said the girl made several attempts to kill herself and was hospitalized in 2011 as a direct result of being sexually assaulted.
A court date has not been set.
See Friday's News-Register for more on this story.