Hammond pastor blames health, financial woes for his relationship with teen

Chicago Sun-Times/January 3, 2013

The former pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond says in a new court filing that health and financial problems preceded a sexual relationship he had with a then-16-year-old girl last summer.

Jack Schaap, who pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Hammond in September to transporting a minor across state lines for sexual relations, says in his sentencing memorandum that the stress from his health and his church's depleting finances led to him suffering from depression shortly before he started the month-long relationship with the girl, who turned 17 a week after it started. Donations to his mega-church, one of the largest in the country, were down, which meant the church had to lay off employees and Schaap was working up to 100 hours a week.

Part of that increased work included counseling students, one of whom was his victim, at First Baptist's schools.

Schaap, with support from federal attorneys as part of his plea bargain, is seeking a below-guideline sentence of 10 years, which is the mandatory minimum he can serve under the charge.

He acknowledges in his filing he violated a position of trust with the girl but also notes his long service to the community.

"While serving as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dr. Schaap committed his entire life to the service of his local community as well as to the world at large," the filing says.

It mentions his work providing financial aid at his church's schools to students who couldn't afford tuition, starting a substance abuse treatment program in Hammond and raising $100 million to support those programs.

Along with the memorandum, Schaap also filed 140 letters of support from family and church members. Most said that Schaap's crime was not indicative of who he really is.

"We were known for our happy marriage, and it was not a hypocrisy; it was real," Cindy Schaap, Jack Schaap's wife, said in a letter.

Other people wrote of the help they received from Schaap, whether through him helping them find a job or getting them into a drug rehabilitation program.

"His preaching has helped me to understand a lot about my behavior and has been a great tool in the healing of my marriage and relationship with my children," Paul Collins wrote in another letter.

Bob Marshall wrote about Schaap's work with the Hammond Initiative to train mentors and tutors for children in Hammond schools and also help pregnant students graduate from high school.

Schaap is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 15.

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