General

Sexual Abuse in Churches and Legal Recourse – Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Sexual Abuse of Minors

Victims of sexual abuse are among the most vulnerable.  They need aggressive counsel who will fight for them.  Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C. has been fighting for victims for over 30 years.  Virginia recognizes how particularly difficult it is for victims of sexual abuse to muster the strength to begin to right this wrong.   The statute of limitations in Virginia for sexual abuse occurring during the infancy or incapacity of a person is 20 years.

Virginia law, § 8.01-243, in pertinent part states:

Every action for injury to the person, whatever the theory of recovery, resulting from sexual abuse occurring during the infancy or incapacity of the person as set forth in subdivision 6 of § 8.01-249 shall be brought within 20 years after the cause of action accrues.

Additionally, Virginia law, § 8.01-249, states in pertinent part as follows:

The cause of action in the actions herein listed shall be deemed to accrue as follows:

In actions for injury to the person, whatever the theory of recovery, resulting from sexual abuse occurring during the infancy or incapacity of the person, upon the later of the removal of the disability of infancy or incapacity as provided in §8.01-229 or when the fact of the injury and its causal connection to the sexual abuse is first communicated to the person by a licensed physician, psychologist, or clinical psychologist. As used in this subdivision, “sexual abuse” means sexual abuse as defined in subdivision 6 of § 18.2-67.10 and acts constituting rape, sodomy, object sexual penetration or sexual battery as defined in Article 7 (§ 18.2-61 et seq.) of Chapter 4 of Title 18.2.

We understand that no amount of money will erase the horrible violation, but this law firm empowers and gives a voice to sexual assault victims.

Sexual assault is a pervasive and often silent problem most often directed at children and women.  National surveys of adults suggest that almost 1/3 of women and 1/10 men were sexually abused or assaulted during their childhood.  The victims of the assaults often feel degraded, shamed and even embarrassed, unable to muster the emotional strength and courage to report the incident let alone to take charge and seek justice.  Especially for children the impact can shake the core of their being when violated by somebody that was supposed to protect them.  Attorney Tom Roberts stated “This is where this law firm comes in–if a sexual assault victim reaches out to us and engages us as counsel, we will stand with our client, give them a voice and empowerment to bring the perpetrator to justice.”

For assistance in righting the wrong of sexual abuse, contact the firm immediately!

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Virginia Beach lead pastor John Blanchard at Rock Church International "voluntarily stepped back as lead pastor from all his ministerial duties"

John Blanchard Mugshot
Chesterfield County Sheriff Office

On October 28-29, 2021, Chesterfield arrested 17 men in a sting operation.  According to News3 WTKR, Maj. Mike Louth with Chesterfield County Police Department stated “They reached out and were trying to coordinate an opportunity to have sex with a minor.” Virginia Beach’s Rock Church International’s lead pastor John Blanchard was among 17 men surprised by police who met them in a hotel instead of the minor that they expected, was arrested and charged with felonies.

The church's anemic response is partially to blame

The arrest didn’t keep John Blanchard from the stage on October 30, 2021.  It wasn’t until the charge hit the news did he “voluntarily” step back from his “ministerial duties.”

The Virginia Beach Rock Church issued the following statement on its website:

Under the guidance of our legal counsel, We can not make a statement or comment concerning the accusations against Rev. John Blanchard at this time.  We are all committed to walking in integrity and truth at Rock Church International and will continue to take steps to do so.  Pastor Blanchard has voluntarily stepped back as lead pastor and from all his ministerial duties until this present situation is totally resolved.  During this season, Bishop Anne Gimenez will be stepping in as Lead Pastor and sharing the pulpit with Pastor Robin Blanchard.  

As followers of Christ, we must remember that  redemption, salvation, grace, mercy and healing are all gifts given to the children of God. Although everyone must address their own convictions and consequences, our assignment  as believers is not to condemn, but to be agents of God’s love, healing, justice, and reconciliation.  (Romans 3:23-“for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”) If we are to walk in eternity with Christ, our position must be one of truth, love, faith, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. 

Thank you for your prayers and support. The outpouring of love has been overwhelming and we appreciate all of those who have reached out to be an encouragement to us!  We would ask that the privacy of the Blanchard family be respected as they walk through this difficult journey together. 

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) -Ephesians 2:4-5

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 

1 John 3:18

But is that really the Christian Message?

Not exactly.

The False Equivalency

Rock Church’s statement –  our assignment  as believers is not to condemn, but to be agents of God’s love, healing, justice, and reconciliation. (Romans 3:23-“for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”) If we are to walk in eternity with Christ, our position must be one of truth, love, faith, mercy, justice, and forgiveness.

 

Rock Church's Response Should Make Its Members Realize That Their Leaders Are Wolves In Sheeps' Clothing and FLEE!

Rock Church’s leadership by this statement  seeks to minimize and normalize an alleged heinous crime for one who has undertaken the role of a “pastor” or “shepherd” of people.  The Biblical response is to speak the truth, to be filled with horror.   The notion that all people sin, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God does not mean that we should close the criminal justice system, empty the jails or give a free pass to pastors that have violated the trust given to them! Luke 17:2 “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

Ignoring Biblical Qualifications for Spiritual Leaders

Pastor Blanchard has voluntarily stepped back as lead pastor and from all his ministerial duties until this present situation is totally resolved.

1 Timothy 3, the early church leader Paul described the qualification for a pastor, bishop or elder.

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?) not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons, being found blameless. Likewise, their wives must be reverent, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.  These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.

Congregation of Rock Church Should Adopt Biblical Instruction And Remove The Church's Leadership That Teaches Half-Truths

One commentator, J Calvin, explains it this way: An elder “ought not to be marked by any disgrace that would detract from his authority. There will certainly not be found a man who is free from every fault, but it is one thing to be burdened with ordinary faults that do not hurt a man’s reputation, because the most excellent men share them, but quite another to have a name that is held in infamy and besmirched by some scandalous disgrace. Thus, in order that the bishops may not lack authority, he gives charge that those who are chosen should be of good and honorable reputation, and free of any extraordinary fault. Also, he is not merely directing Timothy as to the sort of men he should choose but he is reminding all who aspire to the office that they should carefully examine their own life” 

The Bible continues – “But those elders who are sinning you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning.”  1 Tim. 5:20

But what is Rock Church doing? –  Letting John Blanchard call the shots – letting him “voluntarily step back as lead pastor from his ministerial duties”?  The wolf continues leading the flock!  And the other church leaders are complicit.  

The False Scales - Balancing

Rock says “As followers of Christ, we must remember that  redemption, salvation, grace, mercy and healing are all gifts given to the children of God. Although everyone must address their own convictions and consequences, our assignment  as believers is not to condemn, but to be agents of God’s love, healing, justice, and reconciliation.”

Wait for it.  The victim blaming.  You will probably hear that the sexual predator  was the victim of a ‘satanic attack’ from people who would hurt the gospel.  Or, this transgression should be balanced against all the good.  

Jesus warned his followers against such Spiritual leaders –  “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men….Woe to you, [Wealthy Church Leaders], hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation….Woe to you, [Church Leaders], hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind [Church Leaders], first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, [Church Leaders], hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”(Matthew 23)

The Gospel

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) -Ephesians 2:4-5

Yes, the Gospel message is that God has by Jesus given his pure goodness in place of imperfections through faith – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  But that is not a license to prey upon the vulnerable.  “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)  The new life is not to be wasted in such pursuits.  Sure, grace and forgiveness is offered to the repentant — The church should pray that John Blanchard repents, but having abused the trust he remains disqualified from leadership. 

The Law & Legal Consequences

No allegations have been made that there were any instances of sexual abuse within the Rock Church.  

“It is not uncommon to find in Churches that once sexual abuse becomes public, multiple victims come forward stating, that they thought they were the only one.”

But what is the law in Virginia regarding sexual abuse by priests, pastors and church leaders?

Abuser Liability

The victim of sexual abuse may bring a number of claims agains the abuser, including assault and battery, etc.

Church Liability

The church defendants, therefore, can be directly (as opposed to vicariously) liable only if they owed a duty to protect [the minor] from this abuse “As a general rule, there is no duty to warn or protect against acts of criminal assault by third parties. This is so because under ‘ordinary circumstances, acts of assaultive criminal behavior by third persons cannot reasonably be foreseen.'” Terry v. Irish Fleet, Inc., 296 Va. 129, 135, 818 S.E.2d 788 (2018) (quoting A.H. v. Rockingham Publ’g Co., 255 Va. 216, 222, 495 S.E.2d 482 (1998)). “Indeed, ‘in only rare circumstances has this Court determined that the duty to protect against harm from third party criminal acts exists.'” Id. (alteration omitted) (quoting Commonwealth v. Peterson, 286 Va. 349, 359, 749 S.E.2d 307 (2013))

A.H. v. Church of God in Christ, Inc., 297 Va. 604, 618, 831 S.E.2d 460, 468 (2019)

The Two "Rare Circumstances" Where the Church can be held liable for sexual abuse of the priest, pastor or church leader.

When the Church Assumes a Duty to Protect

The first involves a defendant who expressly assumes a duty to protect another from criminal harm. …Such a duty is not inferred merely because the defendant “‘took precautions not required of it’ to protect the safety of the plaintiff.”…The judicial “creation of a duty under these circumstances would discourage other parties from taking extra precautions to avoid being subjected to a liability which they otherwise would not have had.” …To find such an assumed duty to protect, an action greater than an “implied undertaking” based merely upon “voluntary conduct” is necessary. … Instead, an action tantamount to an “express communication” of a “specifically described undertaking” is required to conclude that a defendant has assumed a legal duty to protect another from a criminal assault. 

A.H. v. Church of God in Christ, Inc., 297 Va. 604, 619, 831 S.E.2d 460, 468 (2019)

Special Relationship - Duty Imposed

The second rare exception to the general rule involves a duty not assumed but imposed. The common law recognizes a duty to protect when a special relationship exists “(1) between the defendant and the third person which imposes a duty upon the defendant to control the third person’s conduct, or (2) between the defendant and the plaintiff which gives a right to protection to the plaintiff.” … The duty is not absolute, however. It only exists when the defendant could have foreseen the need “to take affirmative action to protect [the plaintiff] from harm.”  The degree of foreseeability required “depends on the nature of the special relationship” because “[w]e have recognized two levels of foreseeable harm.”…(“[A] business invitee does not entrust his safety to a business invitor to the same extent a passenger does to a common carrier.”). ….

A.H. v. Church of God in Christ, Inc., 297 Va. 604, 619-20, 831 S.E.2d 460, 468-69 (2019)

Virginia law does recognize, however, that a special relationship exists between a vulnerable individual in a custodial relationship and his or her custodian. That relationship, if proven, imposes a duty of reasonable care upon the custodian to protect the vulnerable individual in his custody. See Delk v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., 259 Va. 125, 132-36, 523 S.E.2d 826 (2000) (reversing a trial court’s decision to sustain demurrers when the plaintiff had alleged that she required 24-hour supervision from a psychiatric hospital and that the hospital had also taken charge of and exercised control over her assailant);10 Doe v. Bruton Parish Church, 42 Va. Cir. 467, 472-73 (1997) [*623]  [**471]  (Lemons, J.) (recognizing that a special relationship exists when a minor is placed in the custody of a church childcare provider).11See generally Restatement (Second) of Torts § 320 & cmts. a-b & d (describing the duties arising when one individual “takes the custody of another”); Restatement of Torts § 320 & cmts. a-b & d (1934) (same); 2 Dobbs et al., supra note 6, § 418, at 727-34 (2d ed. 2011 & Supp. 2019) (discussing the duties attendant upon a custodial relationship); 3 Fowler V. Harper et al., Harper, James and Gray on Torts § 18.7, at 915-16 (3d ed. 2007) (same); Prosser & Keeton, supra note 5, § 56, at 376-77, 383 (describing the application of the special-relationship doctrine).

A.H. v. Church of God in Christ, Inc., 297 Va. 604, 622-23, 831 S.E.2d 460, 470-71 (2019)