A former pastor in Minnesota who was charged last summer with third-degree criminal sexual conduct for engaging in a sexual relationship with a married parishioner he was counseling will avoid trial and prison time after pleading guilty and agreeing to undergo a psychosexual evaluation as part of a plea deal.
Charles Norman Pelkey, 50, formerly with Avon Community Church, was expected to defend himself in a jury trial set for Tuesday, the St. Cloud Times reported, but opted for the deal in which he gets probation for a crime that could have hit him with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and/or a fine of $30,000.
Under Minnesota Law, members of the clergy can be charged with criminal sexual conduct in the third degree if a complainant is not their spouse and: (i) sexual penetration occurred during the course of a meeting in which the complainant sought or received religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort from the actor in private; or (ii) the sexual penetration occurred during a period of time in which the complainant was meeting on an ongoing basis with the actor to seek or receive religious or spiritual advice, aid, or comfort in private. Consent by the complainant is not a defense against this charge.
The criminal complaint against Pelkey cited by the St. Cloud Times said he began counseling the woman in November 2017 after she expressed a desire to learn more about God.
Pelkey counseled the woman over a period of several months a few times per month before he began asking her "more intimate questions." Around February 2018, the pastor "expressed having sexual feelings" toward the woman.
He told her things "she had told him during the pastoral counseling sessions that she had stated she wished her husband would tell her." She then met the pastor at a Rockville park in March 2018 and performed oral sex on him. She later had sex with the pastor at another park on April 11 and May 21, 2018. By May 22 that year, the woman called Pelkey to end the relationship but he continued to counsel her.
The Avon Police Department, where Pelkey also served as a chaplain, said one of his other parishioners informed them of his crime.
"If you're a pastor, you can't engage in sexual contact with a parishioner if it's in the course of therapy, counseling, religious guidance advice. Anything in that realm. At any point, whether or not the other party consents to the acts doesn't matter because the statute has been written in such a way that basically it deems that that person, if they are seeking out that kind of advice, fundamentally they are vulnerable and need some help," Lt. Vic Weiss of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office stressed in an interview with The Christian Post last summer. "It's written so that people are held accountable if they try to take advantage of that situation."
When asked if the law could be manipulated, Weiss said the police can only act on what they are told in many of these cases.
"A lot of these cases will depend on both what the victims and witnesses and suspects all say. So sometimes your case, like any case, can completely depend upon the cooperation that you get from the victim," he said.
"You might not always be able to successfully prosecute based on a lot of factors," he added. "Anything is open to being manipulated when people aren't telling the truth."