After 31 years serving at the Morning Star Community Church in Salem, Oregon, Ken Engelking, former executive pastor of the more than 1,800-member church, resigned in January after multiple women accused him, and two other former church staff members and a member of another affiliated church, of abusive and adulterous relationships.
Citing a 23-page letter from the women shared with Morning Star's board of directors last spring, the Statesman Journal said the women detailed sexual assault and rape by the three other accused men over more than 20 years, including as recently as 2010.
The women charge in the letter that the church has engaged in a pattern of cover-up and patriarchal pressure inside the church led by Senior Pastor Scott Nelson.
Regarding each allegation, the women claim they were silenced by Nelson and other church leaders and pressured into not reporting the sexual abuse to protect the church's image.
The church leaders, through their lawyer, have denied that they engaged in a cover-up.
In a statement from Engelking about his resignation, the former leader expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve and apologized for his past wrongs.
"I'm so sorry for the pain my past sins have caused anyone and as I have in the past, take full responsibility for those sins. I ask forgiveness if I have caused you or someone pain because of my past actions. We are so thankful for God's continued grace and mercy in mine and my family's lives, and we will continue to trust and serve Him. While there is much more I can say, there is hope for you that you will all continue to trust the Lord no matter what. And I will do the same," he said in the statement.
In a statement to the Statesman Journal last month, the church's board said the alleged incidents occurred between 1994 and 1997. Once the women lodged their complaint last April, they consulted with legal experts and hired a private investigator to carry out an independent investigation into the allegations.
They determined that in 1994–1995 a youth pastor engaged in a sexual relationship that lasted approximately nine months with an adult woman who was a volunteer in the high school ministry.
"The board determined that the information regarding the relationship was not fully divulged when the allegations first surfaced in 1996. Based upon the disclosures known in 1996, leadership took disciplinary action at that time. In 2002, more information regarding the relationship became known. Leadership took additional disciplinary action based on the new disclosures in 2002. The board's 2017 investigation resulted in additional details. When its investigation was complete, the board asked for this pastor's resignation, which was tendered," the church board said.
It was further noted that an intern engaged in "criminal sexual contact" with a minor in the church's high school ministry in 1995 and was immediately dismissed once the behavior was discovered but church leaders failed to report the crime to law enforcement.
"Following the 2017 investigation, the board determined that the initial disclosure of information was incomplete. Contrary to church policy, the pastor supervising the intern unilaterally decided not to report the incident to the minor's parents or anyone else," the board said.
A college and career pastor was noted to have also engaged in "criminal sexual contact with an adult in the college ministry" in 1997. The pastor abandoned his position, however, before the facts were disclosed to church officials.
In 2010, an adult church member also alleged that she was raped while on an overseas mission trip that was sponsored and controlled by another ministry separate from the church.
In a statement from the church board's attorney, Daniel A. Hill, of Adams, Hill & Hess in Salem, he said: "Each situation must be viewed independently. When the situation involving the minor first became known, the supervising pastor promptly terminated the intern and then unilaterally decided not to inform the minor's parents or authorities."
He further noted the church now has systems in place to ensure the protection of victims of sexual and other misconduct and said they are "devastated" by what happened.
"It is important to recognize that the events which are the subject of the Statesman Journal's inquiry occurred approximately 23 years ago. The church is devastated by what happened and wants to help bring healing and wholeness to those who were wounded so long ago. However, despite the view of some, these events are not part of a systemic culture or cover-up," Hill said.