A former pastor of a Baptist church in Louisiana received a second sentence of 60 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to rape and sexual battery of a minor on Tuesday.
The Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s Office announced that John Michael Ward, who formerly served as pastor of Bellview Baptist Church in Westlake, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree rape and two counts of sexual battery of a girl younger than 13.
Ward was sentenced to 40 years for the second-degree rape charge and 60 years for each of the two counts of sexual battery of the minor victim. The sentences will run concurrently, according to the district attorney’s office.
Before his sentencing Tuesday, Ward was sentenced to 60 years in prison in March on separate charges of two counts of child pornography production. Those charges came after a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation. Ward was ordered to make restitution to the victim.
More than a year after Ward’s arrest, interim Pastor Bruce Baker detailed in an interview with The Christian Post what effect Ward’s actions have had on the church.
“We’ve had a few families leave. We’ve had a few families leave and come back. We’ve been able to maintain some stability, but there’s still some healing to be done,” Baker explained.
Due to the church’s proximity to Lake Charles, which local media describes as a “hot spot” for COVID-19, Baker said his congregation was “much more concerned about the pandemic than about their former pastor.” At one point in the past month, the southwest Louisiana city had the highest number of new cases of coronavirus per capita in the entire United States.
The news about Ward’s secret life was also traumatizing to his wife and children. According to Baker, the family has moved away and “the state has assisted them with long-term counseling.”
“The church took special efforts to care for his wife and family and paid their salaries for six months,” Baker said.
Ward was arrested in June 2019 following an anonymous call to the Department of Child and Family Services tip line.
According to KPLC, the former pastor confessed to repeatedly raping an underage girl over a two-year period. The Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office reported last June that Ward told detectives he had molested the girl since 2017 when she was 9 years old. He also admitted to videotaping the girl twice while she was nude.
Shortly after Ward’s arrest in June 2019, Baker issued a statement responding to the allegations in his capacity as director of missions at Carey Baptist Association, a network of churches that includes Bellview.
“We are heartbroken. The church and the association of churches are devastated. We are mobilizing resources to care for the family, church, and community,” Baker said at the time.
Bellview Baptist Church also released a statement following Ward’s arrest explaining that the deacons of the church “unanimously voted to immediately terminate Ward’s employment with the congregation.”
The church stated that Ward was fired “because of his sexual immorality and failure to maintain the high standard of integrity for the office of Pastor outlined in the Bible.”
“Church leaders met immediately with the victim’s family to minister to them in their grief and to offer to help underwrite the counseling needed to help the child and other members of the household to heal,” the statement read.