Church offers aid to accused molester

Police say former elder admitted assaulting 3-year-old; girl's family has left the Carmel congregation

Indianapolis Star/March 29, 2007
By Robert Annis

Carmel, Indiana -- A Carmel church wants its members to show love and forgiveness to a former elder accused of molesting a 3-year-old girl, causing the child's family and others to leave the congregation.

The girl's father said the family no longer feels welcome because of the support shown for the accused man.

"It's a disgrace that the church would embrace a criminal and turn its back on the victim, especially one that's a young child," the father said.

A counseling director, in defense of the church's position, described College Park Church as "a hospital for sinners."

The church, on 96th Street west of Township Line Road, has given money to the accused man and the girl, according to her father and church members.

The accused, Terry Van Gorp, 57, Carmel, has admitted to family and church members that he molested the girl while baby-sitting her at his home in February 2006, according to a Carmel police report.

Van Gorp faces two counts of Class A felony child molesting and a count of Class C felony child molesting. Stephanie Smith, a Hamilton County deputy prosecutor, filed the charges June 5 after Van Gorp confessed to his family and church members visiting his home. He later made an admission to the girl's father, who contacted Carmel police.

The charges can carry a penalty of 42 to 108 years in prison. He is scheduled for trial May 14.

After his arrest, Van Gorp lost his job at Nishida Services, a commercial and industrial cleaning service in Fishers.

Van Gorp did not immediately reply to a message left on an answering machine. His wife, Barb Van Gorp, had declined an interview Monday.

The Indianapolis Star does not identify victims of sexual assault. The girl's father is not being identified to protect her identity.

Doug Pabody, counseling director at College Park, said officials of the nondenominational Christian church would be shirking their duties if they didn't attempt to help "both the crime victim and the victimizer."

"I've been in churches where things like this would happen and no attempt would be made to minister (to the accused), which is a shame," Pabody said. "They're pushed out the door and made to go away, and I, for one, am very proud to be part of a church family that isn't afraid to go into the trenches."

College Park's nondenominational Baptist roots give it no central authority to consult on how to deal with such matters, said Phillip Goff, an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture.

"There are times when you can see religious leaders put aside what they might otherwise talk about with justice, and (instead) talk about mercy because religiously they're on the same side as the person," he said.

College Park elder John Schmidler said church officials have encouraged parishioners to rally around Van Gorp and his wife, the church's office manager. Schmidler said that although the church hasn't publicized the charges against Van Gorp, it took precautions. People who run the children's ministry were told of the charges, he said, and Van Gorp is not allowed in the building without an escort.

The church has provided financial assistance to the Van Gorps and is paying for the girl's counseling, Schmidler said.

The girl's father said the family received a $1,000 check from the church but denied that the church was paying for ongoing counseling sessions.

Van Gorp initially denied molesting the girl but later admitted to it after receiving counseling from former senior pastor Kimber Kauffman, according to police reports.

Kauffman, who along with Schmidler is scheduled to testify against Van Gorp at his trial, has left the church. He resigned in December, Schmidler said, because he didn't believe he could fulfill his pastoral duties.

After Van Gorp was charged with child molesting, Kauffman told the congregation that Van Gorp had hurt someone, but they were not told of the molestation charges, said Fred Childers, a former church member.

Childers said Kauffman told the congregation that Van Gorp was going to go to prison and encouraged church members to forgive and love him. When Childers asked Kauffman why he didn't tell the congregation about the charges, Childers was told it didn't need to know.

Word of the molestation charges quickly spread last summer, Childers said, and he and his family quit the church soon after.

The Van Gorp situation was "the last straw," he said, adding church leaders had "lost their ability to discern right from wrong."

"The (child's) family has been treated like they're overreacting," Childers said. He said he thinks many parishioners are unaware of the child molestation charges. Childers and the child's father said other members also have left the church.

Joe Rice, College Park's administrative pastor, said church attendance has remained steady at about 2,400 each Sunday.

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