Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas, has settled another lawsuit accusing the evangelical institution of allowing a child molester to graduate and not informing police or his future employer of his past.
The seminary released a statement Thursday responding to claims made in a Dallas Morning News report that covered the settlement of a fourth lawsuit against the seminary centering around Jon Warnshuis, who graduated with a masters from the seminary in 1992.
Warnshuis had been sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2001 for sexually abusing three Texas boys while serving as pastor at Oak Hill Free Church in Argyle from 1996 to 2001.
The seminary and the church were both sued by Warnshuis' victims. The latest lawsuit, according to the newspaper, was filed in January and settled in August. Two other lawsuits filed in Dallas County were settled in 2010 and the fourth was settled in 2005. The details of all of the settlements have not been disclosed. However, each settlement did contain a "no admission of liability" provision on behalf of DTS, according to the seminary.
The latest lawsuit alleged that DTS "cloaked" Warnshuis "with all the powers, appearances, and indices of a Man of God that permitted him to infiltrate the community earning the trust of the victims, their families, the congregation and the community at large."
In its Thursday statement, the seminary pushed back on the Dallas Morning News for reporting that the seminary didn't report Warnshuis' crimes to authorities or notify his future employer about his past.
The seminary explained that Warnshuis had completed his coursework and was supposed to graduate in 1988. But on the day before his graduation, the seminary was informed by a concerned father that Warnshuis had molested his 13-year-old son. Warnshuis was subsequently prevented from graduating.
"As an institution of higher education, DTS is not always aware of what transpires in the lives of our students and alumni when they are not participating in their education," the statement reads. "However, when allegations are made, we make every effort to investigate any reports and handle them appropriately. Contrary to what has been articulated in the article, when the initial allegation was received, DTS desired to report the incident to the local authorities."
The statement explains that then-DTS President Don Campbell "immediately sought legal counsel" and was told that the institution was not required by law at the time to report the accusation. Additionally, the seminary contends that the molested boy's father didn't want DTS to report the crime.
According to the seminary's statement, Warnshuis was called to a meeting that also included Campbell and the concerned father after the accusation was made. Warnshuis was told he would not be able to graduate and was advised to get counseling. The advice for counseling, DTS states, was not part of any agreement to let him graduate in the future.
But after four years of therapy with a local psychologist, Dr. Stephen Ash, Ash contacted the seminary to notify it of Warnshuis' progress and urged the school to let him graduate.
"Dr. Ash provided three or four reports of the counseling sessions to DTS even though not required or requested by DTS," the statement reads. "In early 1992, Dr. Ash, unsolicited, wrote to DTS stating that Warnshuis had made significant progress, had adequately dealt with the issues in his life, and opined that he should receive his degree. He also wrote a follow-up letter confirming his prior letter."
After "much discussion" and considering that there were no more allegations lodged against Warnshuis, DTS decided to let Warnshuis receive his diploma in May 1992.
The seminary states Warnshuis was only allowed to graduate after "confirming the decision with several individuals knowledgeable of the situation" and the father who lodged the original complaint against Warnshuis in 1988.
According to The Dallas Morning News, officials at Oak Hill Free Church maintain that they followed the church's hiring process when they hired Warnshuis as pastor and called the seminary. However, DTS maintains that it never provided any recommendation on Warnshuis' behalf.
"[C]ontrary to what has been articulated in the article, since Warnshuis' graduation, DTS has never provided any reference or recommendation concerning Warnshuis to any church, including the church in Argyle, and was not aware of his service there," the statement reads.
In its statement, DTS also points out that the Argyle church was also sued and has also settled the claims.
"DTS has and continues to take issues of violence and abuse of any sort very seriously," the statement concludes. "Every claim that comes to light is investigated, and the institution has robust policies in place to deal with these situations. It has always been our desire to teach truth and love well. Our prayers go out to all of Warnshuis' victims for the pain and suffering they were subjected to."
View the seminary's full statement here.
The settlement comes as there has been heightened attention surrounding child sexual abuse allegations against church leaders.
In August, a former youth mentor at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California was convicted of molesting twin boys. And a Pennsylvania grand jury report released last month details clergy sexual abuse that spans decades. In July, the co-founder of one of the nation's largest Christian music festivals was sentenced to 18 years for child sex abuse.