Two youth pastors at the 17,000-member Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, Okla., charged with failing to report on time an alleged rape to police, were legally obliged to notify authorities of the incident right away, state prosecutors said on Wednesday.
John and Charica Daugherty, the son and daughter-in-law of Senior Pastor Sharon Daugherty, are among five employees charged last month for being informed of the rape committed by 20-year-old former church employee Chris Denman, who attacked a 13-year-old girl in a stairwell. Denman has pleaded guilty and faces the possibility of life in prison when he is sentenced in December, but the Daughertys are also facing a misdemeanor for their failure to report the crime on time, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
As a detailed report by the church explains, the employees who were made aware of the rape reported it initially to Human Services, but only after two weeks were police actually made aware of the crime. The Daughertys are defending themselves by saying they were not responsible for the delay in information. They will have to wait for hearings in November and December to find out the court's ruling.
The pastors' attorney, Jason Robertson, has argued that because Oklahoma law defines child abuse as an act committed "by a person responsible for the child's health, safety or welfare," the charges can't apply to Victory Christian Center, because Denman was not an employee at the time of the attack. Denman had been an intern at the church until three days before the attack on Aug. 13 – and was hired as a janitor at Victory Christian three days after the crime.
"It must be the goal of our community and our Legislature to protect children and to err on the side of protecting children rather than to allow individuals to escape responsibility based upon a legal argument that is convoluted and offensive," argued opposition lawyer Sarah McAmis.
The church has addressed the controversy by calling on anyone who finds out about alleged abuse of any kind to immediately report what they see or hear, with Pastor Sharon Doherty telling her congregation: "I want to personally say, that if anybody here is aware of any child being neglected or abused, physically or sexually, that you should please inform the authorities immediately."
"Our children are precious, and we owe them our full protection," added Pastor Doherty.
Some critics, however, such as Barbara Dorris, the outreach director for the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), have said that the church deciding to defend its employees when a young girl was raped is evidence of them putting their reputation above the victims.
"Again, here we go with these ministers putting their reputations ahead of the safety of the kids," Dorris said.