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Thursday, February 23, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Ex-pastor Norwich faces sex charge

Norwich Bulletin

NORWICH CT -- The former pastor of a Norwich church, who resigned under pressure from the church because of alleged "immoral" activity, was arrested this week on sexual assault charges.

Charles Johnson Jr., the former pastor of the Norwich Assembly of God, was charged Tuesday by Norwich police with first-degree sexual assault and two counts of risk of injury to a minor.

Police released few details of the alleged incident, but said the complaint was received Nov. 9 and involved a minor.

Many members of the clergy in recent years have had allegations leveled against them. Not all ended with criminal convictions.

The sexual abuse allegedly occurred between 2001 and 2002 while Johnson was still pastor at the 340 New London Turnpike church, according to police. The victim has alleged inappropriate contact on two occasions at Johnson's Norwich residence.

Johnson was released Tuesday on a $150,000 bond and is scheduled to appear March 2 in Norwich Superior Court.

News of the arrest was a surprise to Otis Stanley, district superintendent for the Southern New England District Assemblies of God, who said he was contacted by Norwich detectives. The district includes 180 churches in three New England states.

"Right now, it's just hitting us -- it's unbelievable," Stanley said. "He is no longer a pastor. However, since we've gotten (the new) information, we have placed him under investigation."

Stanley said Johnson has denied the charges against him. Stanley said people should "withhold judgment until the whole story has been told."

But, Stanley said, "I don't have any mercy, if it is true."

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Church officials confirmed Johnson was the focus of an internal church investigation in 2002, after receiving complaints about inappropriate behavior between Johnson and a female adult at the church.

An executive board eventually determined Johnson had "gone through a moral failure relating to another adult," said Juleen Turnage, director of public relations for the General Council of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Mo.

She declined to discuss details of the 2002 allegations. Of the most recent charges, she said the church had "zero tolerance for any abuse of a child."

A letter to church members dated April 17, 2002, from the Norwich church council indicates Johnson's credentials were suspended for six months and he was to undergo counseling before being returned to the ministry.

But Johnson was asked to resign as pastor, Stanley confirmed. Johnson's resignation was effective Dec. 8, 2002.

James Franklin, 51, of Norwich was a member of the church council at the time and remains a close friend of Johnson's. Franklin declined to discuss details of Johnson's resignation, but said he believes the charges against him are false.

Franklin said his children are close friends with Johnson and said he was always a "compassionate and loving person ... an excellent pastor and good friend."

"I considered (him) an outstanding pastor or I would not have been a member so long," Franklin said.

Stanley said he doesn't know whether Johnson's arrest is related to the previous investigation, since the previous incident was not criminal in nature, he said.

"This is a whole different ballgame," Stanley said.

Stanley said if allegations turn out to be true, they "reflect on one person, and not the church."

Terri Warner of Canterbury, a former member of the church, said she was aware of the 2002 allegations against Johnson, but had not heard about allegations against a child.

She said she wants to know the truth.

"I love Chuck and Cindy and his whole family. His children grew up with mine and always were very dear to us," Warner said "He's already suffered embarrassment ... if it's the same set of circumstances. Why is this coming up again? I feel a public confession and apology is due. It's time he comes forward and states the truth."

Johnson is not the first pastor locally to face allegations of sexual abuse. Isaac Goodwater, former pastor at the Emmanuel Church of God in Christ in Taftville, was arrested in 2003 and charged in connection with the alleged assault of two girls.

Goodwater reached an agreement with state prosecutors and pleaded no contest to two counts of coercion. He received a suspended sentence and two years of conditional release in 2005.