These ‘men of God’ sexually abused children. Then they found refuge at other churches

BY SARAH SMITH

Pastor Bruce Goddard acted immediately when he learned the principal at Faith Baptist Church’s school in Wildomar, California, had been intimately involved with a 17-year-old student.

He rented the 35-year-old principal a U-Haul and shipped him out of state. He did not call the police.

The accused wound up at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, a church affiliated with Goddard’s alma mater, working again with teenagers. The abused girl was later told that church officials in Indiana were aware of his involvement with her when he arrived.

An eight-month investigation by the Star-Telegram shows that what happened at Faith Baptist is just one example in a nationwide pattern of cover-ups and shuffling of suspected abusers among churches and universities that, like Faith Baptist, are part of the independent fundamental Baptist movement.

The cover-ups are reminiscent of the scandals of the Roman Catholic Church, but distinctly different.

Decisions in the Catholic Church are made within a hierarchical structure that governs all churches. Independent fundamental Baptist churches operate with no oversight or structure outside their own walls.

One thing does bind the churches that face abuse accusations: a culture that uses fear to control and gives men in power the role of unquestioned and ultimate authority. In that environment, abuse has visited scores of fundamental Baptist churches.

And many abusers have escaped consequence-free, often with the help of the pastor in charge.

“A lot of times, it’s phone calls and meetings, because I mean, generally speaking, these type of pressures are not memorialized in writing, OK?” said David Gibbs III, a Florida attorney who represents victims of church abuse. “So we’re not talking like, here’s the text, here’s the email, here’s the letter: ‘Dear abuse victim and your parents, don’t go to the police.’ So there’s a lot of quiet pressure.”

Interviews and documents obtained by the Star-Telegram show three main tactics used by the church to transition abusers to new jobs and hide their actions:

Pastors ship suspected abusers to other churches or church-affiliated schools led by one of their friends from Bible college or the speaking circuit. Both have full knowledge of what happened, according to former members and pastors familiar with the movement.

Pastors recommend a suspected abuser for a new job without informing the church or school about the allegations. In a culture where well-known pastors are elevated to near-godlike status, their recommendations are weighty.

In other cases, pastors pressure victims to keep quiet, telling them they’ll ruin the alleged abuser’s ministry or the pastors simply don’t believe the accusations. They can also bring in a law firm that specializes in the independent fundamental Baptist movement. Victims told the Star-Telegram that lawyers, working on behalf of the church, have tried to intimidate them into silence.

Even if criminal charges are brought against a church leader, he might be allowed to continue in ministry. Facing charges that he had sex with a 14-year-old, a pastor left his Indiana church for Miami, where he told his new congregation that the girl was “promiscuous.” Though he pleaded guilty to felony stalking in 2009, he didn’t leave the church until 2014. He maintains his innocence.

He’s one of nearly four dozen men who were allowed to continue in their ministry after facing sexual abuse allegations — and even convictions, the Star-Telegram found.

“It’s a little bit trippy, looking at the independent Baptist world I grew up in and thinking, ‘We’ve always heard bashing on the Catholics for their system of religion, for the way they shuffle around perverts,’” said Pat Cook, who unknowingly started a church in 2013 with a suspected abuser, on the recommendation of his pastor.

“Unfortunately, we’ve definitely seen it in the independent Baptist world.”

Faith Baptist.jpg
A scandal of abuse and coverups at Faith Baptist Church in Wildomar, California, exploded into public view this year as four women accused its pastor, Bruce Goddard, of downplaying abuse allegations and shipping alleged abusers out of his church. Frank Bellino The Press-Enterprise

‘There’s a situation’

Faith Baptist in California stands at the epicenter for how churches in the movement handle sexual abuse cases.

One man can connect decades of allegations and several troubling cases against the staff there: Pastor Bruce Goddard.

In 1992, Goddard called 17-year-old Kathy Durbin into his office to ask about her involvement with Laverne Paul Fox, the principal of the church’s affiliated school.

Fox had been having sex with Durbin, who was also a member of his church youth group, since Durbin was 15. She was disturbed and confused by the encounters but had kept them a secret.

Goddard asked whether they’d touched. Yes, Durbin said. Then, he asked if they kissed.

“I said, ‘Oh yes.’ I wanted him to know,” she said, “I said it dramatically, so he’d know there was more to it.”

Later, she said, Goddard asked whether she could be pregnant. She said no, she didn’t think so.

Tim Heck, a longtime deacon at the church, soon got a call from Goddard. Heck had never heard his pastor speak with such fear in his voice. He told Heck, who worked for the U.S. Border Patrol at the time, to bring his gun and badge and meet him at his car.

“He says, ‘Look, there’s a situation with our administrator Paul Fox,’” Heck said.

Goddard told him that Fox had been caught in his car making out with one of the teenage girls, and the girl’s father was threatening to kill Fox. Goddard was going to try to calm down the father, he told Heck, and would point out the presence of a law enforcement officer if things got heated. (Durbin later said Goddard made up the whole story about her dad.)

KathyDurbin
Kathy Durbin grew up at Faith Baptist Church in Wildomar, California. She says the school principal molested her, and the pastor sent him out of state. The man was never charged. Courtesy Kathy Durbin

Goddard did not respond to email, mail or phone calls from the Star-Telegram.

Goddard stationed Heck down the street from Durbin’s house as he went to speak to her and her parents. He hopped back in the car 20 minutes later, Heck said.

As far as Heck knew, the two had just kissed. Goddard asked Heck whether he thought a district attorney would prosecute the case. Heck, thinking back to a recent case he’d worked on the job, said it was unlikely based on that case.

“He says, ‘I’m telling Paul Fox, I’m going to rent him a U-Haul and tell him to leave the state,’” Heck recalled.

Heck said he trusted his pastor and did not question the details. Within two days, Fox was gone.

By the next year, Fox was at First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, which is affiliated with Hyles-Anderson College, Goddard’s alma mater. Durbin said Goddard told her that he had called Jack Hyles — pastor of First Baptist Church and the head of Hyles-Anderson College — and told him that Fox had been involved with her.

The church did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Hyles-Anderson College. Jack Hyles died in 2001. Fox also did not respond to requests for comment.

When Durbin graduated high school she, like many students from Faith Baptist at the time, went to Hyles-Anderson College. When she got there, she saw Fox working with the church’s teen department.

Meanwhile, she was forced to attend counseling and write an apology to Fox’s wife. The suggestion came from the wife of a pastor at the church. He is now in federal prison for sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl.

Heck didn’t find out what really happened with Durbin and Fox for many years.

“It really bothers me looking back that I was used that way,” he said. “I didn’t know any of the facts.”

The way Goddard handled the case — downplaying allegations to church leaders and sending the alleged abuser out of state — would empower another youth pastor at First Baptist to molest three girls.

One of that man’s first victims would be the daughter of an adamant supporter of the church: Tim Heck.

‘Trust how I handle this’

In November 2017, April Heck Avila finally told her parents about Malo Victor Monteiro, her youth pastor.

Twenty-five years after Goddard had first called Tim Heck about the Fox case, Avila detailed how Monteiro had kissed her for the first time in his office when she was in high school back in the early 2000s, and things progressed to fondling and oral sex while she was still underage.

Monteiro had left Faith Baptist in 2013 after Goddard heard complaints that Monteiro, who was married, was having an inappropriate relationship with a college student. Monteiro was now co-pastoring a church in Menifee, California.

Last year, Heck found himself approaching Bruce Goddard about allegations involving his daughter. Heck wanted to make sure to tell his pastor that Monteiro should not be allowed to work in the ministry.

He was also worried that the family didn’t have enough evidence, so he asked Goddard to not call the police just yet. They didn’t speak of it again for months — until Heck mentioned a lawyer.

april.jpg
April Heck Avila and her husband, Aurelio. Avila says she was molested by her youth pastor when she was a teenager. Courtesy photo

Avila, now 32, had in late May called an attorney known by the church for his defense of abuse victims, David Gibbs III.

On Memorial Day 2018, Heck and his wife, Jackie, got a call from Goddard asking if he could come over. When the pastor arrived, he was sobbing. He said he felt awful.

The Hecks asked him one favor: Don’t tell Monteiro, because it would jeopardize any investigation.

Two days later, Goddard asked to come over again after Bible study. This time, he wasn’t crying.

“He started telling us about the evils of attorneys, especially this attorney, that his goal was to destroy IFB churches and pastors and attack the cause of Christ,” Tim Heck said.

Goddard then let slip that he’d met with Monteiro the day before and told him about April’s allegations against him — exactly what the Hecks had asked him not to do.

At the end of the meeting, according to the Hecks, Goddard said, “I would think after 32 years of being your friend, your pastor, working together, that you would trust my lead and follow me and trust how I handle this.”

Jackie Heck stared Goddard down.

“No,” she said. “We’re 100 percent behind our daughter. Period.”

To the Hecks, it felt like Goddard was only concerned about the church’s reputation. On June 1, Goddard sent an email to staff to let them know that someone had made allegations against Monteiro. He downplayed the allegations.

Goddard’s email, which Heck shared with the Star-Telegram, infuriated him.

“They appear to be over a decade old and not involving sex but inappropriate enough to involve an attorney,” Goddard wrote. “I would ask that you refer all questions to me. If I am not around, you are welcome to give out my cell number. You are not required to talk about these matters, even to law enforcement.”

Over the summer, Heck and his family quit the church. April Heck Avila spoke to the police in California, but the statute of limitations on her case had run out.

"Anybody that’s coming at you from the church ... there is this intention to put pressure on. It’s designed with an institutional interest, not your interest."

The fixers

The Christian Law Association has been involved in at least a dozen cases of alleged church abuse, according to court documents and interviews. David Gibbs Jr. started the association in 1969 and became close with Jack Hyles, the iconic pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.

Advice from the association has run counter to mandatory reporting laws in many states that require people in positions of authority — such as teachers or members of clergy — to immediately report any suspicion of child abuse.

In a 2012 newsletter, the association recommended that church leaders talk to their attorney, conduct an internal investigation and contact their insurance carrier before considering a call to authorities.

David Gibbs III worked for his father defending churches for years. They split in 2012 and Gibbs III began his own Christian law practice.

Gibbs III represents victims of church abuse, although many women remain skeptical because of his earlier work. He said, in his experience, pastors often protect the church over the congregation.

“They can get very institutionally focused, you know, ‘We have to cover up child abuse because we have to protect the church,’” he said. “So these powerful men are wanting to hang onto their power or these churches are wanting to hang onto a status that they don’t really deserve, because bad things have happened, and they’re trying to keep that from being discovered.”

He said victims should be careful about talking to anyone but law enforcement, including church leaders.

“Anybody that’s coming at you from the church — a lot of times it can be board members, it can be legal counsel, it can be insurance, it can be the pastor — there is this intention to put pressure on,” he said. “It’s designed with an institutional interest, not your interest.”

Mindy Woosley saw how the Christian Law Association works when she tried to hold her abuser accountable decades after it happened.

Woosley’s father was the pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when she was abused by Tony Denton, her music minister, in the late 1970s.

When he learned of the abuse, her father at first didn’t believe her, Woosley said. Denton remained in the church’s employ and, within two weeks, was molesting her again.

When Woosley came back with other victims years later, Denton had moved on to a nearby church. Her father called him, Woosley said, and told him to get out of the ministry. Woosley’s father declined to comment.

Denton found refuge at Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Woosley said her father told the pastor about the abuse allegations, but Denton stayed anyway. Trinity Baptist’s pastor, Bob Gray, was charged with four counts of capital sexual battery involving young girls. He died before he could go to trial.

In 2006, Woosley learned that Denton was a counselor at Trinity. She and Denton’s other victims wanted to get him out of any position of authority, especially one where he might have access to young, vulnerable women.

So one of the victims reached out to the Christian Law Association. The firm arranged a mediation meeting between the victims and Denton in April 2006 in Atlanta.

The initial mediation documents, obtained by the Star-Telegram, were drawn up by the Christian Law Association. Denton was not to work in the church or with children again. Denton’s pastor would need to inform his deacons of the abuse allegations. Denton would have an accountability monitor to check if he was following the agreement.

Even if the women believed Denton broke the agreement, they would agree to mediation because “lawsuits between believers are prohibited by Scripture,” the mediation document read.

The documents also included a confidentiality clause: The mediation agreement forbade anyone from talking about it. No party was to make “disparaging statements” about the other. Another version of the agreement forbade the women from publicly using Denton’s last name.

David Gibbs Jr., Woosley said, opened the meeting by outlining their options and goals. Then he told them, “No peace rests on bitterness and revenge.”

Woosley said she was dismayed by the Christian Law Association’s tactics and its mission as the church’s hired gun. David Gibbs Jr. did not respond to requests for comment.

“They were God’s answer to every problem that comes along in the IFB church, in the IFB world,” Woosley said. “Are you freaking kidding me? A mediation settlement agreement? That’s what it was. And the first thing they do in it is remind us that we’re Christians.”

For the victims, peace wound up resting on going to the police and prosecuting Denton in North Carolina, which does not have a specific statute of limitations for felony sexual assault charges. He pleaded guilty in 2008 and is a registered sex offender.

“Beyond seeking specific legal justice for a wrong committed, I have learned that revisiting issues like this in a public domain rarely, if ever, brings healing and resolution to those who have been hurt,” Tom Messer, Trinity Baptist Church’s current pastor, wrote in an email. “Those issues were resolved by the legal system.”

KathyDurbinOld
Kathy Durbin, fourth from the left in a blue sweater, stands here with her class at Faith Baptist Church in Wildomar, California. She says one of the youth workers molested her and the pastor sent him out of state. The man was never charged. Courtesy Kathy Durbin

Time constraints

Statutes of limitations on sex crimes range from under 10 years to unlimited, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, varying from state to state and crime to crime.

Laura Palumbo, a spokeswoman at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center who was raised in a fundamentalist community, said the purity culture in churches can make it even harder for survivors to report abuse because they believe it was their fault.

“Fundamentalist communities draw this link between purity and virginity,” Palumbo said. “It creates a false idea that if you have enough diligence or discipline, this is something in your control.”

Statute of limitations laws — which dictate the time frame within which a crime can be prosecuted or a civil suit can be filed — were designed to protect the rights of defendants by ensuring that allegations had to be dealt with before witnesses died, their memories faded or evidence was lost.

Advocates, however, have pressed states to extend statutes of limitations on sex crimes.

“Not everyone’s going to have the same time line on when they’re ready,” said Durbin, who was allegedly abused by her school principal in California in the 1990s. “That means perpetrators get away with it.”

Any form of sexual assault can be difficult for victims to report, but it can be even more challenging for someone raised in the culture of an independent fundamental Baptist church.

“It takes years and years to overcome all that brainwashing,” said Denise Kodi, a former member of an independent fundamental Baptist church who says she was abused as a child. “People really, really struggle. Which I think is of course why things don’t come out about the abuse, because they’re so tightly controlled.”

Woosley, now 56, spent years in treatment before seeing her abuser prosecuted.

“This is why the statute of limitations must be changed, because the depression hits 20 years down the road, to the point I was suicidal before I got help,” she said.

Hear them speak

They were terrorized, trapped and even sexually abused. Now, these former members of independent fundamental Baptist churches share how their experiences will affect the rest of their lives. Click to hear their stories.

Highly recommended

Naomi Perez was a teenager at Grace Baptist Church in Gaylord, Michigan, in the early 2000s when she saw her volleyball coach, Aaron Willand, making out with one of the other girls.

Perez told the youth pastor, who said she was looking too far into things, she said.

She went to another assistant pastor. He told her she never saw anything and told Perez’s mother that she was lying. Her mother grounded her.

The pastor, Perez said her mother told her, then sent Willand to Washington state to be a youth pastor with a letter of recommendation. It was another arrangement that would yield hideous consequences.

What Perez didn’t know at the time was that Willand was molesting her younger sister, Ruthy.

It started when Ruthy Nordgren was 12, when she was a babysitter for Willand and his wife. Willand and his family moved to Washington state the next year. When she was 14, Ruthy Nordgren went with them to help with their new baby.

There, Nordgren said, he raped her every day for two weeks. He warned her not to tell and always listened to phone conversations when she talked to her mother.

Naomi Perez warned her mother about what could be happening, and her mother reported Williand to authorities in Washington.

Willand pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse and rape in 2006. Perez’s mother declined to comment.

Back in Michigan, Nordgren didn’t exactly receive a warm welcome.

At school and church, kids called her a liar, a rebellious teen, a whore who seduced Willand. One of Nordgren’s friends, she said, brought her in to talk to another teacher about what had happened.

Nordgren said the teacher looked at her and asked, “‘Well, did you say no?’ I said I didn’t know what to do. And he said, ‘Then it wasn’t rape.’”

In its investigation, the Star-Telegram found example after example of men credibly accused — and even convicted — of wrongdoing who were allowed to continue in the independent fundamental Baptist ministry.

A man convicted of sexual battery in 1999 went on to serve as a youth volunteer in Georgia, where he abused three more girls. He pleaded guilty in 2016 to sexual battery.

A principal at a Christian school affiliated with Bob Jones University was moved out of state when sexual abuse allegations came to the pastor’s attention. The deacons, said one deacon’s wife at the time, convened a secret meeting and then spirited him away, on the advice of Bob Jones University officials.

“They’re enabling someone to go down the road and do it somewhere else,” said Stacey Shiflett, an independent fundamental Baptist pastor in Maryland who has witnessed alleged abusers get away with their crimes, aided by church leadership.

“A lot of preachers, though they are in the leadership position, they do not have the guts to do the right thing. Either they’ve got political ties or they have friends of friends who have friends that have friends that don’t want to rock the boat. And me, I don’t care.”

Rachel Peach.JPG
Rachel Peach was molested by her youth pastor when she was a teenager at her California church. He pleaded guilty on Nov. 13, 2018. Rob Hart Special to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

‘Who’s going to do it?’

Justice would find Victor Monteiro, after all, and there would be nothing Bruce Goddard could do about it this time.

Rachel Peach, a friend of April Heck Avila, had also been groomed by Monteiro at Faith Baptist in California. In 2007, he had sex with her for the first time. She was 15.

But as the years passed, Peach had no desire to tell anyone Monteiro had raped her.

She had seen firsthand how the church handled sexual misconduct cases. She knew the flimsy reason offered for Monteiro’s departure in 2013 — that he was tired — was a lie.

Monteiro had also told Peach and two other girls he molested the story of Paul Fox and Kathy Durbin from decades earlier. The lesson was subtle but effective: If the girls told anyone about him, they would be ostracized like Kathy Durbin was all those years ago. And even if they did tell, church protocol dictated Monteiro wouldn’t face consequences.

Peach moved on with her life. She went to college and got married.

Then in 2018, she found out that Avila had filed a police report and was told it was too late to do anything.

Peach reached out to the detective on Avila’s case and told him her story. The detective, also a Christian, she said, took her seriously. Peach felt like God had arranged it so that detective would be on her case.

She also knew the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in her case would be expiring soon. She couldn’t sleep or eat, consumed by the possibilities.

She was 25. Her birthday was in a week. The statute would be up the day she turned 26.

As they sat in a Mexican restaurant, Peach’s husband encouraged her to take action. “If you don’t do it,” he said, “who’s going to do it?”

Peach filed her lawsuit against the church on July 16, 2018 — two days before she turned 26. She alleged the church was negligent in hiring and supervising Monteiro.

Monteiro, now 45, was arrested 11 days later. He pleaded guilty last month to molesting Peach and another girl from the youth group, Lea Ramirez.

Ramirez has posted publicly on Facebook about the allegations but declined to comment further.

Peach’s belief in God has stayed strong. She’s asked often how he could let this go on for 15 years. But then, she started to believe that God had the right idea — and that he would have the last word.

“I almost feel like God knew that we had to wait until there was enough of us to build a solid case, to put away Victor and end Goddard covering this up,” she said.

“If April would’ve said something when she was in high school, I 100 percent believe Goddard would not have told anyone. Or he would have swept it under the rug and moved him somewhere else. And April would have had to live in silence.”

Monteiro.jpg
Malo Victor Monteiro pleaded guilty to molesting two girls in his youth group in California. A third woman’s allegations were past the statute of limitations. Frank Bellino The Press-Enterprise

Read Next

If you have a story to share, contact lead reporter Sarah Smith at ssmith@star-telegram.com or 817-390-7186 or reporter Kaley Johnson at kjohnson@star-telegram.com or 817-390-7832.

More from the series

The Team
Investigative reporter: Sarah Smith
Editors: Steve Coffman, Mike Fannin and Tom Johanningmeier
Visual production: Todd Feeback, Neil Nakahodo, Chris Oschner, Shelly Yang and Julia Wall
Social media editors: Jordan Ray and Sandy Guerra-Cline
Digital presentation: Leah Becerra
Researchers: Kaley Johnson, Katie Bernard, Jenna Farhat, Cortlynn Stark and Sorayah Zahir