TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The pastor of an Oklahoma megachurch where five employees reportedly waited two weeks to report the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl began encouraging congregants this weekend to speak up about sexual abuse.
"I want to personally say, that if anybody here is aware of any child being neglected or abused, physically or sexually, that you should please inform the authorities immediately," Victory Christian Center pastor Sharon Daugherty said Saturday during services, according to the Tulsa World (http://bit.ly/SN2sD4 ). "Our children are precious, and we owe them our full protection."
Daugherty's comments come after two former church employees were arrested this month on sex-related charges. Prosecutors also charged five church employees — including Daugherty's son and daughter-in-law, who are both youth pastors — for failing to report the alleged assault between Aug. 15 and Aug. 30.
Police have said Daugherty, the worldwide ministry's pastor and co-founder whose daily broadcasts are beamed via satellite to more than 200 countries, knew about the abuse allegations, but trusted ministry employees to follow in-house policies on reporting such incidents. She has not been charged.
The 17,000-member church did not immediately respond to a phone message left by The Associated Press on Sunday.
Tulsa police say the 13-year-old girl is among at least three victims of alleged sex crimes by two former employees. Her mother filed a lawsuit Friday, alleging that Victory Christian Center officials tried to conceal the reported incident in an effort at "damage control." The lawsuit, first reported by the Tulsa World, seeks more than $75,000.
Former church employee Chris Denman, 20, was arrested earlier this month for allegedly raping a 13-year-old girl in a stairwell on Aug. 13. He also is charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl sometime between Aug. 13 and Aug. 17. He has pleaded not guilty and faces an Oct. 11 preliminary hearing. He was appointed a public defender, according to court records, but that office couldn't be reached Sunday.
Another ex-employee, Israel Shalom Castillo, was arrested Thursday after turning himself in at the Tulsa jail. He is charged with making a lewd proposal to a child and using a computer to commit a sex crime. It wasn't clear whether Castillo has an attorney.
Five church employees — John Daugherty, Charica Daugherty, Paul Willemstein, Anna George and Harold "Frank" Sullivan — also each face one misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse and are due to be arraigned Wednesday in Tulsa County District Court.
Tulsa attorney Jason Robertson said he represents John and Charica Daugherty but didn't comment further Sunday. It wasn't clear whether the other three had attorneys.