2d woman says pastor ignored assault

She tells of advice to forgive, forget

Associated Press / June 10, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H. — A woman says she was sexually assaulted as a teenager 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 commented after a recent trial during which a New Hampshire prosecutor suggested that the same pastor, the Rev. Chuck Phelps, did not do enough to help another young church member, 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 woman, 34, 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.

Warner police Officer Scott Leppard confirmed this week that his department is investigating the woman’s statements. Leppard said he did not think the statute of limitations would be a factor because the allegations involve the possible sexual 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 complaints.

The Associated Press does not 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.’’

“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 has not 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 Lieutenant 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 that Phelps could not be prosecuted now even if he did fail to report suspicions of sexual abuse more than a decade ago.

Cheryl came forward after the recent rape trial involving another Phelps parishioner. Ernest Willis, 52, was convicted of statutory and forcible rape of his children’s babysitter in 1997.