According to the Stamford Advocate.com
Woman says NH pastor ignored sex-assault claims
LYNNE TUOHY, Associated Press
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A woman says she was sexually assaulted as a teen and that the pastor of her church told her to forgive and forget instead of doing what the law required: report it to authorities.
The woman’s allegation surfaced after a recent trial during which a New Hampshire prosecutor suggested the same pastor, the Rev. Chuck Phelps, didn’t do enough to help a rape victim.
Phelps, former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord and now a pastor at a Baptist church in Indianapolis, has not returned messages seeking comment.
The new accusations were lodged with police by a 34-year-old woman who says her stepfather repeatedly molested her from 1994 to 1996. She said she was 17 and a junior at Trinity Baptist Church’s high school when the assaults began. She left her home in Warner in 1996, when she was 19.
Warner Police Officer Scott Leppard confirmed this week that his department is investigating the woman’s allegations. Leppard said he did not think statute of limitations would be a factor because the allegations involve the potential sex assault of a minor, a felony.
“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Leppard said of the recent conviction and the new allegations.
The AP doesn’t typically identify alleged sexual assault victims, but the woman spoke to the AP about the assaults and her interactions with Phelps on the condition that she be identified only by her first name, Cheryl.
“I would tell him, ‘no,’ ‘stop’ — and he wouldn’t stop,” she said of her stepfather. “I went straight to my mother when it happened. She acted like it was my fault. When my mom didn’t do anything about it I went to Pastor Phelps. He told me I need to forgive and forget about it.”
She said she hasn’t forgiven him yet.
“I still suffer from it to this day,” she said.
Asked about the allegations, the stepfather told the AP this week: “We’re not giving interviews. Thank you.” The AP is not identifying him, because he hasn’t been charged with a crime.
New Hampshire law requires clergy, among others, to report any suspicion a child is being sexually assaulted. Failure to do so can result in a misdemeanor criminal conviction.
Concord Police Lt. Keith Mitchell said Phelps made no reports of any alleged sexual assaults in 1994 or 1995 involving the woman or her stepfather.
Merrimack County prosecutor Wayne Coull said the statute of limitations on misdemeanors is one year, meaning Phelps couldn’t be prosecuted now even if he did fail to report suspicions of sex abuse more than a decade ago.
Cheryl came forward after the recent rape trial involving another Phelps parishioner.
In that case, Ernest Willis, 52, was convicted of multiple counts of statutory and forcible rape of his children’s then-15-year-old baby sitter in 1997. The girl became pregnant as a result of the rapes. Phelps arranged for her to move to Colorado to live with a Baptist family there and put her baby up for adoption.
Phelps reported the allegations involving Willis to police, but they could not locate the girl and the case was shelved for more than a decade.
Coull took issue with Phelps’ actions, telling jurors that the girl’s faith in him got her “shamed, shunned, silenced and shipped away.”
Phelps testified in Willis’ trial and said he felt like he’d been “thrown under the bus.” He said he had made the girl go before the congregation and apologize for getting pregnant out of wedlock but denied that amounted to church discipline or a public “shunning” of the girl.
Cheryl said she was not made to go before the congregation, but Phelps arranged a meeting with her and her stepfather. At the meeting, Phelps told her stepfather to stop assaulting her, she said.
She says her stepfather didn’t stop. Asked how many times he groped her, she told the AP, “I can’t even count. I really can’t.”
She said she is prepared to return to Concord to testify against him if needed.
Cheryl now has a criminal record related to a drug addiction and she now lives in a halfway house in Merced, Calif., where she’s on probation.
Her uncle Robert Sheffield, of Big Sandy, Texas, blames the abuse for her problems.
“It’s not a pretty picture,” he said. “And it irritates me no end because I know why.”
Sheffield said he once confronted Phelps. Sheffield said Phelps told him the issue had been “dealt with” and that confidentiality rules barred him from going into detail.
“I remember that phone call like it was yesterday,” Sheffield said. “I’ve been angry at that man for 15 years. He definitely told me that he told her to forgive and forget.”