Victory Christian Center, a 17,000-member megachurch in Tulsa, Okla., has been rocked by allegations that five employees waited two weeks to report to police the rape of a 13-year-old girl who was assaulted allegedly by another church employee on campus.
Authorities have revealed that the teenage girl is one of at least three victims suspected to have been abused by former employees of Victory Christian Center, and investigators fear more victims might be revealed as Tulsa police continue to look into the case.
The Associated Press reported that police believe the church, which is headed by Pastor Sharon Daugherty and beams daily broadcasts to over 200 countries, was aware of the accusations against its employees, but did not do enough to report the incident in a timely fashion.
"We deeply regret that our employees did not report these incidents to authorities within the proper amount of time. This failure within our organization weighs heavily on us, because our purpose is to help people and minister to their needs," Victory Christian Center has said. "Our internal response was unacceptable, and we are taking the proper steps to correct it."
Chris Denman, 20, identified as a former church employee, was arrested on Sept. 5 for allegedly raping the 13-year-old girl before a church service on Aug. 13, as well as for allegedly molesting a 15-year old girl. Israel Shalom Castillo, 23, is another former employee who was arrested on Sept. 20 for allegedly making a lewd proposal to a child and using a computer to commit a sex crime.
The five church employees suspected to have been aware of the crimes but failed to report them in a timely matter include the lead pastor's son and daughter-in-law, both youth pastors – John and Charica Daugherty – as well as three other individuals who each face a misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse.
The Victory Christian Center has admitted that its employees were aware of the allegation, but took a week to check it out before reporting the suspected crime to supervisors and the human resources department. However, there was a further delay in getting the report to the police.
"There was a couple of weeks in which they were either unsure of what to do or didn't do it, or who knows what," said Police Det. Cpl. Greg Smith. "There was a couple weeks where we probably lost some evidence."
Officials have contacted some of the victims, but at least two parents are refusing to co-operate with the investigation, Smith revealed.
"They made a comment that the church is handling the situation and they're going to continue to pray about it. We're still hoping to convince them to go forward with it," he said.
Victory Christian Center, an interdenominational congregation, was established in 1981 and is one of the largest megachurches in Oklahoma. It was founded by Sharon and the late Billy Joe Daugherty, and today also operates the Tulsa Dream Center, which provides food, clothes, medical care and other programs to needy people in the area.