A community and a congregation are in shock over the arrest of a minister on child sex charges. 67-year-old Dennis Hayes, a pastor at St. Martin's Lutheran Church in Watertown, South Dakota, is charged with 3 counts of sexual contact with a minor. Court records state that Hayes molested a boy in southwest Minnesota. That case led Watertown police to Hayes' home where investigators say they found child pornography on his computer.
Hayes has been placed on administrative leave by his church. While his parishioners hope and pray that the charges aren't true.
The arrest of a man of God on child sex charges has shaken a congregation to its core. Allen Steinmetz said, "It's very heartbreaking to our family."
Allen Steinmetz is a lifelong member of St. Martin's Lutheran Church in Watertown who says suspect, and pastor, Dennis Hayes would go out of his way to help families in need. Steinmetz and his wife MarKay raised two daughters under Hayes' ministerial care. "He baptized our children, we go to St. Martin' Church."
Hayes' wife babysat the two Steinmetz kids. Daughter Keanna speaks glowingly of the pastor she grew up with. "He's a good guy, he's a good counselor, and he's patient and understanding."
Police say their investigation into Hayes is "ongoing." But they aren't saying if other victims are involved. Troy Van Dusen, of the Watertown Police Department said, "It's a tough case, it's tough for everyone involved, but we have to treat it equally with every other case we work."
As the investigation moves along, church members like Steinmetz are placing their faith in their pastor and the judicial system. "And when this whole thing goes through, I hope he's proven innocent... it's just very hard."
I spoke by phone today with Pastor Hayes. He said his attorney told him not to discuss the case publicly.