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Saturday, June 28, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Priest commits suicide following allegations of sexual abuse

DOVER-FOXCROFT - A Roman Catholic priest committed suicide after he was informed that he would be suspended pending an investigation of his alleged sexual abuse of a minor 29 years ago, the Diocese of Portland said Friday.

The body of the Rev. James Robichaud, 56, was found Friday morning in the rectory of Our Lady of the Snows in Dover-Foxcroft. He learned of the allegation the day before.

Robichaud died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, said Sgt. Gary West of the Dover-Foxcroft police. He said an employee at the rectory found the body in a second-floor bathroom, and it was believed that the shooting took place Thursday evening. No suicide note was found, West said.

The abuse allegation came to the diocese from the Oblates, a religious order of men with whom Robichaud was serving in Massachusetts prior to his return to Maine in 2000.

The abuse was alleged to have occurred around the time Robichaud, an Augusta native, was ordained in 1979 and assigned to St. Jean-Baptiste Parish in Lowell, Mass. He later served as chaplain of Lowell General Hospital and pastor of Notre Dame De Lourdes in Lowell.

"Out of pastoral care for Father Robichaud's family and parishes during this time of shock and grief, further details about the case will be released at a later date," the diocese said in its statement.

The diocese said there is not enough information at this point to substantiate or dismiss the allegation. Bishop Richard Malone asked that prayers be said for all involved.

"This is a tragic end to a story that we may never completely understand. It is simply our mission to bring the healing presence of Jesus to this agonizing situation. May His love work through each of us to find compassion for the woman who made the complaint, Father Robichaud's soul, his family, friends and parish community," Malone said.

Robichaud attended the Oblate College and Seminary in Natick, Mass., Framingham State College in Massachusetts and the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., where he received a masters of divinity.

On his return to Maine, he was named administrator of St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover-Foxcroft and St. Francis in Brownville Junction. St. Anne Parish in Dexter was added to his responsibilities in 2005. The three parishes joined in 2007 to become Our Lady of the Snows.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Successful pastor of a Texas mega-church makes an interesting career move.

By webmdave.

William Vanderbloemen, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Houston, Texas, is well known for leading churches to experience phenomenal growth through innovative change. His evangelical “ancient future” approach in a mainline denomination has built him a reputation as one who has a deep respect for the past and desires to apply it to the future in a dynamic way.

Raised in North Carolina, William received his Bachelor of Arts degrees in Religion and Philosophy from Wake Forest University. It was during this time that William returned to a renewed walk with Christ. Hearing a call to ministry, he attended Princeton Theological Seminary where he received his Masters of Divinity degree in 1995.

That’s a quote from a First Century Voyages brochure published last June inviting the faithful to a 10-day luxury cruise along the Elbe River “from Prague to Potsdam and Berlin.”

Prior to landing the pastorate of the Texas mega-church in January, 2002, VanderBloemen pastored a Memorial Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he was a board member of the Presbyterian Coalition against ordaining gays and lesbians. From the Presbyterian Coalition website:
“We grieve the continuing decline of our denomination on multiple levels. Something is deeply flawed at the core. We yearn and pray for a new day for the PCUSA. While longing to retain our unity, we are ready for a redefinition of that unity and the structural realities that hold us together. God help us.”

An article on the Presbyterian Outlook website reported:
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Presbyterian Coalition is plowing at least $300,000 into its campaign to defeat Amendment A, a controversial proposal that would open the door to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians....

...In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks against the sins of immorality, idolatry, adultery and homosexual practice, Bailey says. "He pretty much covers the bases -- he covers swingers who are unmarried, he covers people who have got religion and sex all mixed up, he covers people who violate their marriage vows" and those involved in homosexual relations.

This prompted William Vanderbloemen, a Coalition board member and pastor from Montgomery, Ala., to say that "it sounds like a blanket policy" for sexual ethics.

Vanderbloemen is currently listed as a prominent supporter of the campaign to have Republican candidate Ed Emmet re-elected to Harris County Judge.

Vanderbloemen resigned from his well paid position with the Presbyterians in February, retaining the ministry status of “member at large.” That means he’s eligible and available to pastor another church.

Here’s an interesting story from the Houston Press regarding Vanderbloemen’s resignation:
There was a brief notice in the Houston Chronicle in February (2007) when William Vanderbloemen, the young, energetic senior minister of Houston's First Presbyterian Church (FBC), announced his resignation.

FPC is the dignified, classy church in the Museum District. Vanderbloemen preached at Senator Lloyd Bentsen's funeral, to a crowd that included both Clintons.

The resignation was said to be so he could spend more time with his family. That hasn't worked out so well — he and his wife are getting divorced.

But with the divorce case, word is getting out that Vanderbloemen — who to some was trying to be a Presbyterian Joel Osteen — was pissing off a large chunk of his congregation.

Documents from Presbyterian higher-ups show performance reviews criticizing him: "We know that you consider yourself to be ethical and honest. The fact that you are not perceived as such must be corrected immediately." And "Your e-mails to your congregation are losing their effectiveness due to your bragging about how great the church is and how others are watching us because we are so great. This is also a problem with sermons."

Vanderbloemen was also urged to cut back on radio spots selling him and the church, and traveling so much.

Geez, Presbyterians: You will never get to be a bestseller-hawking mega-church with that attitude.

So, within the past year and a half, Vanderbloemen has been publicly praised for his innovative church building performance, invited to speak at major events, and asked to support political candidates, but all that time the Presbyterian hierarchy was dissatisfied his performance?

Vanderbloemen publicly announced that he resigned in order to spend more time with his family, but the reality seems to have been that his marriage was falling apart. Along with his resignation, a private, internal report card is leaked to the press revealing that Vanderbloemen's superiors and congregation consider his performance under par. He wasn’t fired, though, and he is still officially in good standing with his denomination. According to Auxano, a church consulting group, great things were happening during Vanderbloemen's tenure. Further, an anonymous source has provided documentation indicating Vanderbloemen was given a $130,000 a year severance package from the PCUSA. I wish I could resign with bad performance reports and receive a tremendous severance package like that!

The same documentation reports that Vanderbloemen has already taken a nice $100,000 a year position with Lakewood Church, the Joel Osteen monstrosity..., er, ministry.

Although no one has been talking, according to public court records, Vanderbloemen has, or will soon have, a new wife.
Office of Beverly B. Kaufman, County Clerk, Harris County, Texas
Marriage License Inquiry System

Vanderbloemen's new wife (or wife to be), just happens to share the same family name as the afore-mentioned Republican candidate for re-election to Harris County Judge, Ed Emmet -- she's his daughter. As stated, Emmet proudly lists Vanderbloemen as an important supporter.

So which is it, PCUSA? Was this guy a dynamic Spirit-filled leader among men, a poor excuse of a pastor that needed to be let go, or was there some other reason (like the divorce?) that he was paid off to quietly step down? There are too many mixed messages all over this one.

I can't help but wonder if the public relations arm of the PCUSA wasn't in full swing to keep something quiet. Maybe the men at the top of the PCUSA just didn’t want a repeat of what happened in New York with Tom Tewell, another PCUSA mega-church pastor that was embroiled in a public scandal that just won’t go away.

Friday, June 20, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Science teacher dissed evolution

He taught creationism and burned crosses into students' arms

A Mount Vernon, Ohio, teacher undermined science instruction in the public school district by discrediting evolution in his classroom and focusing on creationism and intelligent design, an investigation has found.

Eighth-graders who were taught by John Freshwater frequently had to be re-taught in high school what they were supposed to have learned in Freshwater's class, according to outside investigators hired by the district.

For 11 years, other teachers in the school district and people in the community complained about Freshwater preaching his Christian beliefs in class and slamming scientific theories, a school administrator told investigators.

"There is a significant amount of evidence that Mr. Freshwater's teachings regarding subjects related to evolution were not consistent with the curriculum of the Mount Vernon City Schools and state standards," the consultants reported.

Freshwater was told to stop teaching intelligent design and creationism, but he continued, the report found.

HR on Call Inc., the consultants who investigated allegations against Freshwater, released their findings yesterday. Mount Vernon school board members will meet today to discuss the report and decide what, if any, action they will take.

The report confirmed that Freshwater burned crosses onto students' arms, using an electrostatic device, in December.

Freshwater told investigators the marks were X's, not crosses. But all of the students interviewed in the investigation reported being branded with crosses. The investigation report includes a photo of one student's arm with a long vertical line and a short horizontal line running through it.

The family of one student who was burned filed a federal lawsuit last week against Freshwater and the district, saying the student's civil rights were violated.

Yesterday, the family's attorney, Jessica Philemond, said it was "unfortunate" that the school district didn't do anything sooner to stop Freshwater.

"These concerns had been going on for at least 11 years, and the school had not done anything," she said.

A teacher who worked in Freshwater's classroom last year also reported to investigators that Freshwater told his class that homosexuality is a sin.

Neither Freshwater nor his attorney, Roger Weaver, could be reached for comment last night. Freshwater's friend Dave Daubenmire defended him.

"With the exception of the cross-burning episode, I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district," he said.

Daubenmire is a former London High School football coach whose district was sued in 1999 by the American Civil Liberties Union because he led his players in prayer at games, practices and meetings.

"Do you think there are other teachers in the public classroom that are trying to drive their opinions in the classroom?" Daubenmire asked. "I don't care who you are. You cannot separate your value system from your teaching."

The debate about Freshwater's actions became public in April after he refused to remove a Bible from his desk, as the district had ordered.

The report says he was insubordinate for failing to remove the Bible and other religious materials from his classroom but also found other issues about his teaching and behavior.

Story Link | Link to the Report

Click here to play a text to speech mp3 version of this story

Thursday, June 19, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Minister Arrested in Child Rape case

A former Bibb County minister has been arrested for allegedly raping a child.

Timothy Fulgham, 40, is charged with second-degree rape, second-degree sodomy, second-degree sexual abuse and enticing a child for immoral purposes.

Investigators say Fulgham used his power as a minister at River Life Church of God to win the young girl’s trust, and take advantage of her.

According to court documents, Fulgham assaulted the girl in both Bibb and Tuscaloosa counties. He has currently bonded out of the Tuscaloosa Metro Jail.

“Just believing that the truth will be revealed, and we believe in the system; we just don’t talk about it here. It’s not really relevant to us. The former pastor resigned. I just want to let everyone know in our community that our church is a great place to be. It’s a safe place to be,” said Brandon Morrison, current pastor of the River Life Church of God.

At the time of the attack, the girl was between 12 and 16 years old.

This case will go before a grand jury in the coming months.

Story Link

Pastor arrested on child sex charge

FORT WORTH, Texas — A pastor has been arrested on accusations that he sexually assaulted a teen girl who attends his church.

James "Jay" Virtue Robinson IV, pastor of Southwood Baptist Church, surrendered at the Tarrant County Jail on Wednesday evening in response to an arrest warrant accusing him of sexual assault of a child, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. He was released after posting $20,000 bail.

Robinson has denied having a relationship with the girl. A phone listing for him was disconnected. His attorney, Cheyenne Minick, didn't immediately return a phone call Thursday from The Associated Press.

The girl, now 18, was 16 when she and Robinson, then the youth minister, struck up more than just a friendship, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. The relationship escalated to sexual touching, occurring about 10 times at the church, the affidavit states.

By the time she was 17, the relationship progressed to sexual intercourse. Robinson would pick her up from school and take her to his home, where they would have sex, the affidavit states.

The Fort Worth Police Department's crimes against children unit began investigating the case in March after the girl's father called police.

Police and church members say that after one Sunday evening service, the pastor addressed the congregation, saying that the girl and her parents were being manipulated by former church members whom he described as "wolves in sheep's clothing"

"We now have reason to believe that the preacher may actually be himself a wolf using the pulpit to prey on the sheep he's been charged to protect," said Lt. Paul Henderson, a police spokesman.

Story Link

Teen's death renews scrutiny of faith-healing group

Oregon law may protect Followers of Christ members

The painful and apparently preventable faith-healing death of a 16-year-old Oregon City boy this week brings the secretive Followers of Christ Church back under legal scrutiny, just four months after the boy's infant niece died in similar circumstances.

But unlike the girl's death, which resulted in criminal mistreatment and manslaughter charges against her mother and father, Oregon law may protect the parents of Neil Jeffrey Beagley, who under state statute was old enough to make his own medical decisions.

Beagley died Tuesday at his grandmother's home, a week after first complaining of stomach pain and shortness of breath. As Beagley's family and several dozen church members prayed for what church members call spiritual healing, the teenager deteriorated and died, according to police and medical investigators.

Dr. Cliff Nelson, Oregon deputy state medical examiner, said Wednesday that an autopsy determined Beagley died of complications from a constriction where his bladder empties into his urethra. Beagley became unable to urinate, an intensely painful condition that caused his kidneys to stop extracting urea from his bloodstream and triggered heart failure.

Nelson said the blockage, which may have been congenital, easily could have been treated. "Basically, he couldn't void," Nelson said. "But it definitely was treatable. Something as simple as catheterization (the insertion of a tube into his bladder) could have saved his life."

Nelson also said the autopsy indicated that Beagley had suffered repeated episodes of blockage and pain, probably throughout his life, with no apparent medical intervention.

"His kidneys were shot," Nelson said. "Even if his life had been saved by catheterization, he would have been a candidate for dialysis or a kidney transplant." He said a different kind of catheter, which he termed a simple "in-office procedure," could have solved the blockage problem.

"Laying on hands"

Instead, Beagley apparently suffered for at least a week. When his condition worsened Sunday, he was taken to the Gladstone home of his grandmother, Norma Beagley. Neighbors and police said more than 60 members of the Followers of Christ Church gathered there to attempt faith-healing. Church followers believe in treating illness by anointing the body in oil, "laying on hands" and praying for a cure.

Sgt. Lynne Benton, Gladstone police spokeswoman, said a church leader called the Clackamas County medical examiner's office about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and reported that Neil Beagley had died about an hour before. Benton said investigators from Clackamas County's Major Crimes Unit then detained church and family members for interviews, which lasted until about midnight.

"We processed the scene for evidence, but there was little for us to do," Benton said. "There were no signs of trauma or suicide."

Benton said all the interviews indicated Beagley refused medical treatment.

"Unless we can disprove that," Benton said, "charges probably won't be filed in this case."

Niece also not treated

Church members declined to comment or answer any questions Wednesday.

In March, the church made national headlines when Beagley's 15-month-old niece, Ava Worthington, died at home from bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection -- conditions that medical experts deemed treatable with antibiotics.

The infant's parents, Carl and Raylene Worthington, have since pleaded not guilty in Clackamas County Circuit Court to manslaughter and criminal mistreatment. Their attorneys have indicated they will rely on a religious freedom defense and have launched a Web site,, to rally nationwide support.

It's not clear whether authorities will bring charges against Neil Beagley's parents, Jeffrey Dean Beagley and Marci Rae Beagley of Oregon City, his grandmother or other church members.

"The district attorney's office is waiting for the investigation to be complete," said Gregory D. Horner, Clackamas County chief deputy district attorney. "We are researching applicable laws to make a determination."

Complex legal issue

Professor Leslie Harris, a University of Oregon law school faculty member who specializes in children and the law, said the legal issues are complicated.

Harris said Oregon law generally confers the right of consent for medical care to 15-year-olds. "But the right to consent to medical treatment may not be the same as the right to refuse medical treatment," Harris said. "Those may be very different questions."

Also unclear, Harris said, was whether the state would have to prove who decided to decline conventional medical care or whether the law would assume the choice was the boy's.

There are also questions about whether Beagley was in a position to exercise his own judgment, given his medical condition and the social pressures of his church, which has a history of shunning those who violate religious traditions.

Although Beagley was homeschooled and appeared to have little contact outside his family and church, neighbors provided glimpses into his life.

Like a lot of teenage boys, Beagley sometimes mowed the lawn in front of his cream-colored house. He was polite and had a driver's license.

Former neighbors in Oregon City said the Beagley parents and four kids were nice but generally kept to themselves. They left the neighborhood several months ago to build a new house near Beavercreek.

Lynnette Schouten, who lived next door to the family for 19 years, said she sympathized with their loss -- to a point. A mother herself, she said she could not imagine watching any of her children die in agonizing pain.

"To me, they're going through their own hell," she said. "At the same time, at what point do these kids get protected?"

Neighbors could tell someone was sick at the Beagleys' when a convoy of cars showed up, staying around the clock. They knew someone had died when the medical examiner drove up.

"I just do not believe in what they believe in," Schouten said. "I cannot understand how somebody can let their child suffer."

Story Link

Bruises, cuts cover dead child

TARBORO NC – The 13-year-old boy who died while tied to a tree last week sustained multiple injuries while bound, according to arrest warrants released Monday.

Tyler Gene McMillan was tied to a tree at his family home in Macclesfield for 18 hours, resulting in his death, according to the warrants. During that time, the boy suffered bruising to the wrist and cuts to the entire body. He also was missing flesh from his buttock.

N.C. District Court Judge Joseph Harper Jr. in Edgecombe County read the warrants during the first court appearance of Tyler's father, Brice McMillan, and stepmother, Sandra McMillan.

The two have been charged with first-degree murder and felony child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury in the death of their son. If convicted, they could face life in prison or the death penalty.

The McMillans appeared in court together Monday but did not acknowledge each other. Brice McMillan tried to fight back tears for most of the eight-minute hearing, while his wife stared at the floor.

The two have retained separate attorneys.

"It's a sad case," defense attorney Allen Powell, who represents Brice McMillan, said after the hearing. He declined to comment further.

A probable cause hearing has been scheduled for July 2.

Brice McMillan, 41, told Edgecombe County deputies last week that he tied his son to a tree in the family's yard at 1110 Felton Farm Road and forced him to sleep outside Tuesday and Wednesday nights because he was misbehaving, the Edgecombe County Sheriff's Office said.

Stepmother Sandra McMillan, 36, found Tyler unresponsive around 4:30 p.m. Thursday after being tied to the tree since Wednesday night. He was pronounced dead at Heritage Hospital in Tarboro.

Authorities have not announced the cause of death.

The couple is being held at the Edgecombe County Detention Center without bond.

The Edgecombe County Department of Social Services took custody of two other children in the home, a 7- and 9-year-old, authorities said.

Tyler's mother died Sept. 24, 2004, of cancer.

According to neighbors, the McMillans home-schooled their children and moved to the area a few months ago.

Story Link

Man officially changes name to In God We Trust

Steve Kreuscher is now named In God We TrustSteve Kreuscher is no more.

A Lake County judge granted permission to the Zion man Friday to officially change his name to "In God We Trust." That's "In God" as a first name and "We Trust" as a last name.

The 57-year-old artist and bus driver was ecstatic about the name change as he exited court Friday.

"I feel great. It's just like, yes!" We Trust said.

The entire process before Judge David Hall took less than two minutes, but We Trust said he was quite nervous.

"I have been praying for this. I didn't want anything to mess this up," he said.

We Trust said the new name more closely represents his devotion to God than "Steve Kreuscher" did.

The process to change his name took roughly three months. Throughout the course We Trust said he was looking for a sign from God that would let him know it was a good idea. He got it one day while adding up the expenses for the name change, which came out to roughly $600.

"I didn't want to use my own money because things are tight," said the father of four. "Three weeks later, I got my (tax) rebate check for $600."

Changing his name to something so out of the ordinary is bound to get mixed reactions from people, especially because of the religious overtones, he said.

"I'm not out to offend anybody. People can call me something different," We Trust said.

We Trust must now go about changing his name on all legal documents. Early next week, he'll visit the Social Security office in Waukegan and then the Secretary of State's office and his bank.

He's already begun signing his artwork with his new moniker, a move that may add value to his work.

"There are billions of artists out there. If you don't do something to stand out in the crowd the world won't recognize you," We Trust said.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Former Regent assistant dean faces sexual assault charges

A former Regent University law school assistant dean has been indicted on 13 felony sexual assault charges involving two girls, according to court records.

The allegations against Stephen L. McPherson, 39, of Chesapeake include object sexual penetration, forcible sodomy, and taking indecent liberties with a child by a custodian.

The charges, reported to Chesapeake police in July 2007, stem from events between May 2000 and May 2002, according to the indictments handed up Tuesday by a Chesapeake grand jury. The girls' ages weren't available Friday.

A conviction on the penetration charge is punishable by up to life in prison.

McPherson and his wife worked from August 1996 to August 2000 as house parents supervising a cottage of as many as eight girls at Hope Haven Children's Home on North Landing Road in Virginia Beach, said Linda Jones, a spokeswoman for Union Mission Ministries, which operates the home. Hope Haven, founded in 1965, provides Christian-based care for children from "distressed family situations," according to its Web site.

McPherson is a grandson of the Rev. Theodore Bashford, executive director of the ministries for 52 years, Jones said Friday.

"We are very saddened by the whole thing," she said.

After they left Hope Haven, the McPhersons adopted three girls over the objections of Hope Haven, Jones said. The shelter opposes staff adoptions to avoid interfering with relationships between children and the parents who place them there, Jones said.

McPherson volunteered at Hope Haven during his high school and college summers, Jones said.

In October 1998, t wo years after being hired as a house parent, he also became development director and general counsel.Along the way, Jones said, McPherson and his wife underwent the same screening process as everyone else, such as criminal background checks, character references, interviews and spending time with the staff.

Since 1991, the facility has had a counselor working 20 hours a week on site, talking with the children and staff members.

"The accusations against him came as a great surprise to us because no child, parent or staff member ever questioned Steve's performance at Hope Haven," Jones said in a statement.

The McPhersons have two young boys, Jones said.

After leaving Hope Haven in 2000, McPherson started work at Regent in Virginia Beach as a writing instructor. He rose to assistant dean for student affairs.

He resigned in 2007, said Judith Baker, a spokeswoman.

He received his law degree and a master's degree in business administration from Regent in 1996. He earned a bachelor's degree from Old Dominion University in 1991.

McPherson is expected to turn himself in next week, said his lawyer, Lawrence Woodward Jr., who declined to comment on specifics of the case.

"My client is, of course, somewhat well-respected in the community," Woodward said. "It's just sad for him and his family that these charges have been brought."

A message left Friday at the most recent number available for the McPhersons wasn't immediately returned. No one came to their door in the 700 block of Seabrooke Lane.


Thursday, June 05, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Minister caught in sex sting resigns

PLANO – A Prestonwood Baptist Church minister arrested on charges of soliciting a minor online has resigned from the church, Pastor Jack Graham told his congregation Saturday evening.

Dr. Graham addressed the crowd at the start of the church's regular worship service. He said the church had accepted Joe Barron's resignation, which took effect immediately.

"You need to know that we are appalled and we are disgraced by this terrible action, an unacceptable action by a minister on our staff," Dr. Graham said. "I'm so sorry for the injury that this kind of behavior has brought to many people in our church and outside of our church."

Police arrested Mr. Barron, 52, Thursday morning after he drove from Plano to Bryan to meet with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl he had met online, authorities say.

The girl turned out to be a Bryan police officer working in an ongoing Internet sex sting.

Bryan police said Mr. Barron had spent about two weeks chatting online with the officer posing as a juvenile. They said he asked her to skip school so she could meet him in a parking lot. On the way there, he chatted with her by phone.

Mr. Barron was one of about 40 ministers at the 26,000-member Plano megachurch. He'd worked there for about 18 months, ministering to married adults, ages 42 to 58.

If convicted, Mr. Barron could face up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the second-degree felony.

Mr. Barron was released from the Brazos County Jail Friday night on $7,000 bail. Police were unsure if he had an attorney. He could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Prestonwood's executive pastor, Mike Buster, said in a prepared statement that church officials had no record or knowledge of prior improprieties, nor had they observed any inappropriate behavior in the time Mr. Barron worked on staff.

In his three-minute address, Dr. Graham said his staff worked hard to earn the trust of its congregation. He promised that the church would continue to make sure it hired ministers and staff of the "highest character."

"We've taken a hit from the enemy this week, but we will rise above and respond to the challenge ... ," he said, as church members applauded. "We are confident and certain that in the days ahead that God is preparing us for something magnificent and wonderful in the ministry of this church. ...We want to put this in our rearview mirror."



DALLAS — A former pastor of a suburban megachurch faces six new charges of using the Internet to seek sex from minors.

Joe Barron, 52, was arrested Wednesday and was being held at the Brazos County Jail in Bryan. Bail had not yet been set for Barron, a former pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.

Four of the counts accuse Barron of online solicitation of a minor and were investigated by Bryan police in Central Texas.

The two other counts are from Louisiana and accuse him of computer solicitation for sex, according to the Brazos County Sheriff's Office. Barron apparently thought he was communicating with a teenage girl in Louisiana but he had encountered an undercover sting.

A message left by The Associated Press at Barron's home Wednesday night was not immediately returned. Jail records did not show if he had an attorney.

Barron was first arrested May 15 by the Bryan Police Department after he drove nearly 200 miles in his wife's car believing he would meet a 13-year-old girl for sex. But he'd actually been communicating with undercover officers. Police said he had brought a box of 10 condoms and a Web camera.

At that time, Barron was charged with one count of online solicitation of a minor. He posted $7,000 bail and was released the next day.

Authorities also said they had evidence that Barron communicated online with more than a dozen girls.

Barron worked at Prestonwood, one of the largest churches in the country with some 26,000 members, for about 18 months and ministered to married adults. He resigned after his arrest last month.


Sunday, June 01, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Mom fights church ban on her autistic son

BERTHA, Minn. — Carol Race thinks it's important for her 13-year-old son to be in church on Sundays for Catholic Mass.

Leaders of the Church of St. Joseph once felt the same way, but not anymore. They say Race's autistic son Adam is disruptive and his erratic behavior threatens the safety of other parishioners.

The northern Minnesota church has obtained a restraining order to keep Adam away, an action that has been deeply hurtful to the Race family and has brought them support from parents of other autistic children.

"My son is not dangerous," Carol Race said. The church's action is "about a certain community's fears of him. Fears of danger versus actual danger," she said.

In court papers, church leaders say the danger is real. The Rev. Daniel Walz wrote in his petition for the restraining order that Adam — who already is more than 6 feet tall and weighs more than 225 pounds — has hit a child, has nearly knocked over elderly parishioners while bolting from his pew, has spit at people and has urinated in the church.

"His behavior at Mass is extremely disruptive and dangerous," wrote Walz. "Adam is 13 and growing, so his behaviors grow increasingly difficult for his parents to manage."

Carol Race said Walz's claims are exaggerated.

"He's never actually injured anyone," she said. "He's never knocked down anyone. He's never urinated on anyone or spit on anyone."

Carol Race was cited for attending church May 11 in violation of the restraining order, and faces a hearing Monday. She says she can't afford a lawyer and will defend herself in court. A lay mediator is scheduled to meet with her and church board members on Wednesday.

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. It is more severe in some people than others. Adam has limited verbal skills.

Walz did not return calls seeking comment, but Jane Marrin, who works for the Diocese of St. Cloud and is acting as a spokeswoman for the parish, said the church board tried working with the Races to find "reasonable accommodations." That included offering a video feed of Mass that could be watched in the church basement.

The family refused all suggestions, she said.

"It's a difficult issue," Marrin said. "There are no easy answers."

Carol Race dismissed the church's suggestion that Adam watch a video feed in the church basement, saying that "does not have the same status as attending Mass. Otherwise we could all just sit home and watch it on TV and not bother to come in."

"It's considered a sin in the Catholic church not to attend Mass on Sundays and every holy day of obligation," she said. "And that's what this is about. I'm just trying to fulfill my obligations."

Adam is one of five children. The family's home in nearby Eagle Bend has separate study rooms so the other children can read books and use crayons that Adam could otherwise destroy.

Carol said Adam has two favorite spots in the house, the prayer room and the kitchen table. "He likes to eat," she said, laughing.

Adam is prone to anxiety attacks. Carol said some of those outbursts force members of the family to sit on him to calm him down, or restrain his hands and feet with a strip of felt.

In his court petition, Walz said that after one service Adam got into another family's car, started it and revved up the engine while there were people in front of the vehicle.

"Adam's continued presence on parish grounds not only endangers the parishioners, it is disruptive to the devout celebration of the Eucharist," Walz wrote. "I have repeatedly asked John and Carol to keep Adam from church; they have refused to do so.

"In fact, Carol told our parish council that she would have to be dragged from church in handcuffs if I tried to keep Adam from attending Mass," he wrote.

The Races have received support from other parents, including Chris and Libby Rupp, who brought their autistic daughter from St. Paul on Memorial Day weekend and sat in the church's back pew normally occupied by the Races.

"I think this case is mostly about not understanding autism," Libby Rupp said. "I wanted to show them another example. Ultimately, we just need more people to truly understand autism."

Rupp met the Races and said she could see why some people might be uncomfortable around Adam, but she added: "Never at one point did I feel that anyone was in danger."