Church trial finds pastor guilty of sex abuse

Chicago Sun Times/November 15, 2008

A former pastor who had worked in River Forest and Elmwood Park was found guilty in a church trial for sexually abusing a minor in the 1980s.

Campbell resigned Nov. 3 from Trinity International University in Deerfield, where he has worked since 2005. He was director of admissions for the divinity and graduate schools and director of financial aid, said Gary Cantwell, the university¹s spokesman.

A panel of six Presbytery of Chicago pastors and elders unanimously found the Rev. Ronald M. Campbell guilty of molesting and raping one of his former youth group members from 1984 to 1989. The abuse started when the victim was 14 years old.

Campbell had worked for Trinity since 2005, serving as the director of admissions for its evangelical divinity school and its graduate school, as well as the director of financial aid. He first told his employer about the allegations about a year ago, but was allowed to continue working at the university during the investigation, according to Cantwell.

"He had a very strong record that made us give him the benefit of the doubt with these allegations," Cantwell explained. "When we became aware of these allegations, we asked Dr. Campbell only to meet openly with students and their family, and not privately with students. And he readily agreed to that."

He added, "Throughout his career here, we had no indications of any misconduct with students during his time here or more."

Cantwell said Campbell had limited interaction with the outside community in his role with admissions and financial aid.

Bannockburn police said they had had no run-ins with Campbell. "Trinity has been really quiet in the past few years and if there was anything that came up like that, I¹m sure they handled that in-house," explained Bannockburn Police Chief Kevin Tracz.

Because of the statute of limitations, the victim could not file a lawsuit against Campbell; the Presbytery of Chicago does not have a statute of limitations for its own church trials.

Campbell was a youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church of River Forest and then for 20 years the pastor at Elmwood Park Presbyterian Church. Campbell was also found guilty of lying to the court, specifically about a tattoo on his buttocks with the initials of the victim inside a heart. Campbell initially denied having the tattoo and later admitted to it.

According to the Oct. 24 verdict, which came after a three-day trial, Campbell will be removed as a pastor for at least four years and can be reinstated on the condition that he make a public confession to the Presbytery of Chicago and go to therapy at his own cost. Campbell has 45 days from the date of the verdict to comply with the conditions; otherwise, he will be permanently removed as pastor.

In a written statement, the Rev. Robert Reynolds, head of the Presbytery of Chicago, said, "The actions of Rev. Campbell betrayed a sacred position of trust and responsibility - that of pastor to youthful parishioner. These acts were reprehensible, and we hope and pray that the conclusion of this trial moves the victim further along a path of healing."

For Julie Lemley Hokanson, the victim, the verdict was the end of a process that started more than two years ago when she came forward with her story. "I came into this process as a victim, but I stayed as a partner in the church and as a parent in society," said Hokanson, who has three children, including a daughter the age she was when the abuse started.

The church paid Hokanson $100,000 in June 2007 after she came forward but did not charge Campbell until March 2008. The church did not immediately remove Campbell as pastor in Elmwood Park because he "served in a church with (an) older congregation that did not have a youth group or children's Sunday school," according to a Presbytery of Chicago statement in March.

Hokanson, now 37, said she hopes others who have been victims of pastor sex abuse will come forward.

"The shame is so high ... but I want people to know I was not asked to be a child abused by an adult," said Hokanson, who now lives in Minnesota. "If you have been sexually abused by Ron ald Campbell or another member of the clergy, you are not alone," she said.

Campbell, who still resides in River Forest, did not return calls for comment.

On the Sunday after the verdict, Reynolds announced the verdict to a congregation of about 40 people at Elmwood Park Presbyterian Church. "I went at the suggestion of the temporary pastor," Reynolds said.

Dave Lemley, Hokanson's brother, was present and described the congregation's reaction as shocked. "(The congregation) needs healing and to grieve the loss they're going through," Lemley said.

No one from the Presbytery of Chicago has yet informed the congregation at First Presbyterian Church of River Forest.

In a written statement released Friday, the Rev. Rich Davis, senior pastor at First Presbyterian, said, "I deeply regret any and all misguided behavior by one of our former employees during the mid 1980s ... (W)e will continue to make every effort to educate and equip both staff and laity to increase awareness and prevent the possibility of any similar occurance."

Hokanson said she hopes the congregation, specifically the one in River Forest where the abuse occurred, has an open dialogue about the charges and verdict.

She added that people need to realize that pastor sex abuse "doesn¹t happen just in those other neighborhoods. It happened in ours."

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