Abuse case at Veneta church draws another lawsuit

The Register-Guard/May 24, 2005
By Jeff Wright

A former pastor at New Hope Christian Center in Veneta has filed a $16.5 million lawsuit against Pentecostal Church of God officials, alleging that they robbed him of his livelihood in retaliation for his support of a teenager who was sexually abused by another pastor.

Ronald Crandall, who now lives in Vacaville, Calif., served as New Hope's senior pastor for nearly eight years until resigning last May, citing failing health. In his lawsuit, filed Friday in Lane County Circuit Court, Crandall said he has suffered headaches, uncontrollable shaking, blood clotting and other ailments as a result of church leaders' actions.

Crandall's suit is the latest wrinkle involving Charles Fenwick Jr., a former associate pastor at New Hope. Fenwick was sentenced last August to five years in prison, the maximum term, for sexually abusing a female parishioner, beginning when she was 14.

The female, now 20, filed a $10 million lawsuit in October, alleging that New Hope and a second church, the Lighthouse Temple in Eugene, were negligent in hiring and retaining Fenwick as an associate pastor. The suit was amended in March, pushing the amount of damages sought to $12.5 million and adding two regional church officials - Harold Gore of Drain and Jamie Joiner of Kennewick, Wash. - as defendants.

Former members of New Hope, meanwhile, filed a lawsuit last month, asserting they are entitled to nearly $1.5 million - the value of the property and furnishings of the Jeans Road church from which they say they were evicted last summer.

In his suit, Crandall alleges wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation, among other charges. He seeks $1.5 million in economic damages, $5 million in noneconomic damages and $10 million in punitive damages.

Defendants include Gore and church leaders Phil Reading of Joplin, Mo., Michael Skaggs of Lebanon and Murvin Coffman of Medford, as well as the national and Oregon-Southern Idaho regional offices of the Pentecostal Church of God.

In a written statement issued by their attorney, Gore and the regional church office deny taking any actions harmful to the teen. They assert that Crandall was himself negligent, inasmuch as the abuse occurred when Fenwick was under his supervision and while Crandall was counseling the teen on a frequent basis.

Crandall's suit "is an obvious attempt to shift blame to others who were never told of the abuse until more than three years later," the statement said.

In a May 12 legal response to one of the earlier suits, Gore and the denomination assert that Crandall received information in 1999 and 2000 that should have prompted him to investigate the relationship between Fenwick and the victim.

The response also asserts that Crandall engaged in personal conduct "that was sinful or against biblical teachings," without providing details.

Crandall, meanwhile, alleges in his suit that church leaders knew about the abuse before he did and sought to hide it from him, and then "criticized, chastised and berated" him for reporting the abuse to law enforcement officials, as required by state law.

Church leaders accused Crandall of having a personal financial motive in reporting the teen's abuse, the suit alleges. Specifically, church leaders implied that New Hope would benefit as a result of the female's increased tithing after any settlement in her favor, Crandall alleges.

His suit alleges that church officials issued a "uniform transfer" document reassigning him to California and containing statements that implied Crandall was being transferred for misconduct.

Church leaders "intended to ruin (Crandall's) reputation and force him to move from the area in which he lived in order for him to continue to serve as a pastor" within the denomination, the suit alleges.

The earlier lawsuits are to go to trial Aug. 9.

The Veneta church building was put back to use in November and renamed the Gospel Tabernacle after the Rev. T.G. Spradlin moved his Cottage Grove congregation to the site.

Former New Hope members have been holding worship services at the Veneta Community Center.

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