Former First Baptist Church of Hammond, Ind., pastor Jack Schaap was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Wednesday for sex crimes with a female church member who was 16 years old at the time.
CBS Chicago reported that prosecutors had asked for 10 years for Schaap, but federal guidelines called for at least 168 months for such a crime. Schaap pleaded guilty to having a sexual relationship with a girl who was 16 when their relationship began last year. He was fired from his position at the church in August 2012.
"He told me to confide in him, to trust him, and he made me feel safe and comfortable around him as a man of God," the girl, who wasn't named, wrote in a letter to Judge Rudy Lozano. "[Schaap] preyed on that trust and my vulnerability."
First Baptist Church of Hammond has since moved on and distanced itself from the former pastor. When details about the sex crimes first emerged, the church cooperated with the FBI in investigating Schaap. It was discovered that the former pastor took the teen girl across state lines for sex.
Disturbing details emerged earlier this month regarding the sex case, with the court noting that Schaap, a married father of two, had tried to justify his relationship with the young girl by claiming that it was a "gift from God."
"You opened your heart wide to me – you made me more than a Pastor/Rescuer – you made me your friend your confidant, your beloved. You gave me your trust, your heart, your love, + your affection," the former megachurch pastor wrote to the girl in messages during their relationship.
Asst. U.S. Attorney Jill Koster said that Schaap started grooming the victim in April 2012, who was "frightened, confused and emotionally traumatized" and seeking guidance for problems at her high school.
Schaap apparently lied to his church staff, who grew concerned about the amount of time he spent with the girl – until one staff member found photos of them kissing on the pastor's phone, and alerted authorities.
The former church leader had previously tried to explain his actions as being influenced by the extreme stress and heavy work weeks he had while leading the church, but a spokesperson for First Hammond told The Christian Post that that cannot be used as an excuse.
"Yes, he was under a tremendous amount of stress such as anyone who runs an international ministry. However, this does not excuse his behavior," Eddie Wilson, a spokesperson for the church, said earlier. Wilson told CP that Schaap was "a gifted leader" who helped the church grow and develop new ministries, "but this does not give anyone the right to justify sinful actions."