Jack Schaap, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Ind., has requested in a new court filing that he be given the minimum 10-year sentence for his sexual relationship with a teen girl from his church. He blamed the affair on stress and depression.
Schaap, 55, was under great stress, exhausted and depressed at the time of the relationship, says a sentencing memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in Hammond by the megachurch pastor's attorney, Paul Stracci.
"Unfortunately, for a four-week period during the summer of 2012, he acted in a manner contrary to the entire balance of his life by engaging in sexual activity with a young woman with whom he had only recently come to counsel," Stracci wrote in the memorandum, according to The Associated Press.
Schaap, who pleaded guilty four months ago to taking the teen girl across state lines with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, was regularly working 100-hour weeks as he struggled to raise money for the 15,000-member church, handled additional counseling responsibilities, and had to lay off staff, the memorandum said. He was also being treated for chronic and acute inflammation of his prostate – all of that led to his "aberrant" behavior with the girl who turned 17 during the relationship.
"I was not aware of the law," Schaap said while pleading guilty in September, but added he knew that his actions were "sinful and wrong."
"While serving as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dr. Schaap committed his entire life to the service of his local community as well as to the world at large," said the new filing, which was supplemented with 140 letters of support, including from his family, his church and pastors from across the country.
"We were known for our happy marriage, and it was not a hypocrisy; it was real," Schaap's wife, Cindy, said in a letter.
"His preaching has helped me to understand a lot about my behavior and has been a great tool in the healing of my marriage and relationship with my children," Paul Collins, a church member, wrote in another letter.
The married father of two, who stood accused of having sexual relations with the girl and taking her across state lines to Illinois and western Michigan for the sexual encounters, was removed from his position at First Baptist Church in August after a deacon apparently found a text message on his cell phone that showed the pastor and the girl kissing. Schaap had even been counseling the girl, it was revealed.
U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano scheduled the sentencing for Jan. 15. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Rochelle Koster has asked the judge for a 45-day continuance in Schaap's sentencing, partly because of the size of the filing and time needed to respond to it.