Former Columbia pastor pleads guilty to abuse of 15-year-old congregant

Comubia Missourian News/February 28, 2007
By Jennifer Eng

A former Columbia pastor was sentenced to 14 years in prison Monday in connection with the sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl. Roberto Edgar Lopez, 37, pleaded guilty to second-degree statutory sodomy and second-degree statutory rape, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Nicole Gorovsky said. Judge Gene Hamilton sentenced Lopez to two consecutive seven-year sentences.

A jury trial had been scheduled for Tuesday morning, but attorneys were able to come to a plea agreement, Gorovsky said. According to Casenet, which is a database for Missouri civil and criminal cases, Lopez faced two sexual abuse charges and an additional charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

Gorovsky said the charge of endangering the welfare of a child was dropped as part of the agreement.

"In these cases with a child victim, there's always a balancing act between protecting the victim and doling out justice for the defendant," Gorovsky said. "Somewhere in that balancing act, we were able to agree."

Lopez, originally from Mexico City, helped establish Horeb Iglesia Metodista Unida Hispana, the Hispanic United Methodist Church, which offered Spanish religious services in Columbia, according to a profile of Lopez published in Adelante.

The Columbia Police Department said in a probable cause statement that Lopez had a sexual relationship with a girl who attended the church.

Lopez was removed from his pastoral duties immediately after the church learned of the charges last summer, according to a statement released by the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church. "The United Methodist Church does not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind," the statement said. "Sexual misconduct is a violation of the sacred trust held by clergy and counter to the mission and ministry of the Church. Providing a safe environment for everyone in our churches and their ministries is our highest priority."

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