After a former youth pastor pleaded guilty on Wednesday to having sex with a minor at the Calvary Assembly in Walkersville, Md., the church's lead pastor John Kenney said the congregation is working hard to rebuild trust with the roughly 80 teenagers who participate in the youth group.
Shaun Michael Ross, 33, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a girl who attended his youth group from April 2008 through April 2010, and sought to win her over through texts, phone calls and gifts.
According to State Attorney Lindell K. Angel, Ross justified his actions to the victim by saying that, as her youth pastor, he was the "safest person to learn about sex from," reported The Frederick News-Post.
"This was a manipulation that went on and occurred at a time when he was her counselor. This is a very serious offense," said Angel.
Ross, a married father who has a 6-year-old son, told the court that he has changed since he was initially charged.
"I believe more than anything that I am no longer that man," Ross told the court.
His wife, who has remained loyal to Ross, said that she had forgiven her husband, adding that "he's changed. And he's not going to stop changing."
Kenney said that when he discovered his colleague was having sex with a student from their youth group, he "called Shaun Ross into my office and he and I sat down, talked to the witness, and at that time he admitted to doing this heinous act."
After the church learned of the allegations, Kenney fired Ross and "the church fully cooperated with the Maryland State Police investigation and reported the allegations to the District Council and General Council of the Assemblies of God."
The lead pastor said he also did his best to help the youth group move on after the revelations came out.
"This trust that they had in this guy has been betrayed, so we have worked very hard to reassure them and try to rebuild trust and leadership. Not only was the victim, the victim, but there were many victims as a result of this," Kenney told YourState4.
Kenney also said that he took the incident very seriously and that he hopes Ross sufficiently pays for his actions.
"When you prey on a child and someone that young and you intentionally do it, to me I am not against a life sentence," he said.
Ross will spend 18 months in jail. After his release, he must serve five years of supervised probation and register as a sex offender.
The now 21-year-old victim still attends Calvary Assembly and told the court on Wednesday that, despite the abuse, she is resilient.
"I have a joy in me that cannot be squashed," she said.
Kenney also aadded that the crime committed against her, "won't be her stumbling block. This will be her stepping stone to really greater things for her in life."