A year after a convicted child molester was sentenced to prison again for molesting two girls that he met through a church, the victims have filed a lawsuit, claiming the crime could have been prevented by the church, its pastor and members of its board of directors.
In a case that could turn the legal focus on the responsibilities churches have to protect members, Apostolic Faith Church in Caledonia is accused of failing to warn congregants that former Sunday school teacher assistant Timothy P. Gregory was a convicted child molester. The lawsuit says Gregory helped his wife, Kimberley A. Gregory, teach Sunday school at the church, where the plaintiff were members.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Gregory is serving a 150-year prison sentence at the Green Bay Correctional Institute for molesting two sisters. Apostolic Faith disputes the claims of the lawsuit and says the parents failed to supervise their children. The lawsuit filed in the Racine County Circuit Court alleges members of Apostolic Faith first met Gregory as part of the church's prison ministries around 1990 when he was serving time in the Racine Correctional Institute. Members of the church continued to minister to Gregory until he was released in 1993 and helped him lease an apartment.
The lawsuit alleges that some members of the church knew of Gregory's past but failed to inform the congregation that Gregory was convicted in 1987 for molesting a girl in Outagamie County.
The lawsuit said Gregory used his influence as a volunteer Sunday school assistant to establish trust with the girls.
The suit says Gregory sexually assaulted the sisters in the basement of the church, at his home and at the girls' home in 1997. At the time, both girls were minors.
After the parents learned of the sexual assaults, they approached church officials.The lawsuit alleges that church officials discouraged the parents from reporting the assaults. The lawsuit says Pastor James Schumacher, who is the head of the church, threatened to excommunicate the family from Apostolic Faith and its larger organization, the United Pentecostal Church International.
The father of the two girls initially agreed not to report the assaults if Gregory continued to attend church. An anonymous caller notified authorities.
Racine County Circuit Judge Allan Torhorst last year sentenced Gregory to 150 years in prison for sexually assaulting the girls. At the time of sentencing, Gregory's mother wrote a letter asking the judge for leniency. Gregory's wife has filed for divorce."This case is about a certain responsibility for putting this person in the path of children," said Milwaukee attorney John J. Galshenen Jr., who is handling the lawsuit for the family.
"We believe they breached their duties by letting a common criminal into their church to teach Sunday school," he said of the church.
Attorneys for the defendants filed a motion this month to ask that the suit be dismissed. The defendants contend that Apostolic Faith is not liable for damages because Gregory never was a hired employee.
Schumacher called the lawsuit baseless and contended that the parents of the plaintiffs failed in their parental duties. "They allowed this to happen," Schumacher said.
He also denied that any inappropriate sexual contact occurred between the girls and Gregory on church grounds.
Schumacher said the church trusted Gregory and did not do a background check on him.
"We are a Christian church," Schumacher said. "The Bible says we need to forget the past."
Schumacher said he didn't know Gregory was a convicted child molester and denies that he threatened to excommunicate the family.
Schumacher said the church sent the family a letter about three years ago asking them to find another place of worship. The family no longer attends the church.
"We aren't in the business of hurting children," he said. "We aren't in the business of protecting people who would obstruct this."
After the Catholic Church sex scandal in 2002, people from other traditions came forward with similar claims of sexual abuse. The Rev. Marie Fortune, editor of the Journal of Religion & Abuse, said sexual abuse exists in every denomination.
She said churches have a responsibility to perform background checks on people who work with children and church members.
"Anyone with that kind of record shouldn't have been put in there," she said.
If Apostolic Faith is found responsible of conspiring to cover up the assaults, it could be forced to pay punitive damages. Church board members did not return calls to the Journal Sentinel.