CRIME

Sovereign Grace Ministries, class-action civil lawsuit involving child sex abuse

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A judge has dismissed most of a lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse and conspiracy to cover up at a large church in Maryland.

But the ruling by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Sharon V. Burrell didn’t address the allegations of abuse. She ruled that the plaintiffs had to sue within three years of turning 18 and that date has passed for most of the alleged victims.

Two of the plaintiffs recently turned 18, but they live in Virginia.

The pastors and churches charged in the lawsuit could still face criminal charges because there is no statute of limitations on felonies.

Renee Palmer Gamby was just a toddler when she says she was molested by a male babysitter from her church. Covenant Life in Gaithersburg was the flagship church of the Sovereign Grace Ministries denomination until this past December, when it pulled out.

Renee’s mother said that when she called their pastor about the abuse, he told her not to call police. Instead, Renee said she was required to meet with her alleged perpetrator and forgive him.

Renee and her mother said they thought they were the only victims. But years later, they found story after story on the "Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivors" blog. And now several are going public in what they hope will be a class-action civil lawsuit.

“We are alleging that a group of men, pastors, conspired together to cover up ongoing sexual abuse of children,” said Susan Burke, civil lawsuit attorney.

The suit alleges decades of brutal sexual and physical abuse of young children--boys and girls-- from the 1980s on, at both Covenant Life Church, and Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax.

The Covenant Life plaintiffs allege beatings, rapes, including a gang rape, and molestations at the church-run elementary school and at other church functions. During the abuse, the school was housed at the Frost Center in Aspen Hill, and Sunday services were then held at Magruder High School.

One alleged abuser is Stephen Griney, a former Bible studies teacher who also headed the children's ministry. The suit details a gang rape where adults wore masks and the victim was an 8-year-old girl.

The lawsuit also names four current officials of the Fairfax church, again, alleging an orchestrated cover-up of child sex abuse incidents and failure to report them to police.

The accusations also say children were forced to meet and forgive the accused, and pastors failed to notify other families-- so the perpetrators went on to prey on other children.

One of those alleged perpetrators is Nathaniel Morales, a Covenant Life member currently jailed on criminal child sex abuse charges in Montgomery County.

“The pastors were on notice. He had other victims,” explained Burke. “They had been told by the victims that Morales had molested them and they did nothing about it.”

Another of the accused predators was then-Covenant Life pastor and school principal John Loftness. The suit claims he repeatedly molested two young girls, one a 5-year-old. Loftness is now the pastor at Solid Rock Church in Riverdale, Maryland, which is not named in the suit.

ABC7 went to Solid Rock Church, but were told Loftness was out all week. Loftness did post a letter to church members, denying ever abusing a child, or shielding any pedophile.

Dara Sutherland said in 1987, when her then 14-year-old sister accused their father, David Adams, of having molested her for three years, their mother went to police. And she says the pastors punished the family instead.

“Basically threw us out of the church, supported the pedophile and provided him with an attorney,” said Sutherland.

Today, Sutherland says David Adams, who did serve jail time for child abuse, is still active at Covenant Life, and manages a children’s music band.

 

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