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Father of girl feels 'betrayed' by church

Saturday, May 31, 2003

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The family of a girl who police say was sexually assaulted by the Rev. David Valencia at Christ Church at Grove Farm feels betrayed not only by Valencia, but also by the church's senior pastor, the Rev. John Guest, and a failure of governance in the large, unaffiliated church in Ohio Township.

Guest told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Thursday that he was aware Valencia had viewed sexually explicit Web sites in his church office in summer 2001, but told no one for six months. According to police, the assaults also occurred in summer 2001.

"He looks like the bishop of Boston. I hold him at least partially responsible for what happened to my daughter," the father said. The Post-Gazette is not using his name because that would identify the victim of a sexual assault.

Guest declined to discuss the issues between him and the girl's family.

"I really care for what is happening with the family. It's very difficult for them, and I don't want to get into this kind of public discussion in the newspaper," he said.

Valencia, 47, is charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and three counts of unlawful contact or communication with minors. Police say the assaults took place in late spring and summer of 2001, when the girl was 17.

He was arrested May 12 in Tucson, where he had worked at a Presbyterian Church in America congregation from May 2002 until that congregation learned of the accusations about two months ago. He posted bond and is awaiting a court hearing Wednesday in Arizona. Attempts to reach him and his attorney were unsuccessful

From an ecclesiastical point of view, the case is a puzzle. Valencia, a native of Chile, was an Anglican priest of the Diocese of Bunyoro-Kitara, Uganda, serving in an unaffiliated church whose senior pastor is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Jan Nunley, deputy director of Episcopal News Service in New York City, was flummoxed when asked whether Episcopal church canons or policies might apply to Guest's supervision of Valencia.

"This is unprecedented. It's uncharted territory because, to my knowledge, these kinds of cross-jurisdictional disputes have really not arisen in the American church before," she said.

Valencia's 1998 ordination sent ripples through the worldwide Anglican Communion -- which includes the Episcopal Church -- because it was among several efforts to keep unhappy conservative Episcopalians in the Anglican fold by placing them under conservative African bishops. Christ Church at Grove Farm was born from a split with St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Sewickley, where Guest used to be rector.

The girl's father was on the Christ Church parish council, and he and his wife had vacationed with the Guests, he said. Valencia was in their home several times each month to lead a Bible study and prayer group for church members.

"He cooked in our kitchen. He was a friend," the father said.

He said he also gave Valencia "significant" financial support because Valencia always seemed to be short of money. The father attributed it to poor management skills.

His daughter began seeing Valencia for weekly counseling sessions in spring 2001. According to police records, after several sessions he began telling her she was beautiful, raising issues about her self-esteem and proposing that they engage in "sexual therapy." The girl told police she tried to resist his advances, but relented during three sessions between May and August 2001.

Meanwhile, according to Guest, a church employee had told him in late June or early July 2001 that Valencia was accessing sexually explicit Web sites. Guest said he told Valencia to get counseling, to tell his wife and never to view such material again, but told no one else.

The father said around September 2001 he heard through the church grapevine that Valencia "had a problem" and "did something really dumb."

Because he was a church officer with responsibility for employees, he said he questioned Guest, who admitted that Valencia had a personal problem of some sort, but said he couldn't discuss it.

"I said, 'John, this man is counseling my daughter. Is she safe?' And he said, 'Absolutely. You have nothing to worry about,' " the father said. "But I did have something to worry about."

The employee who first alerted Guest brought the matter to the parish council in December 2001, which is when Guest relieved Valencia of public ministry. But the father believes that the parish council, Valencia's bishop in Uganda and Guest's bishop in Pittsburgh should all have been told about the Internet viewing when it first came to light.

Guest "knew it was one of David's primary jobs to counsel people. He should have gone to the people David was counseling and asked if everything was OK... He could have put a window in [Valencia's] door. ... There's a million things he could have done and should have done and he didn't do it," the father said.

The father makes sense, said Mark Laaser, a national authority on sexual abuse by clergy and founder of Faithful and True Ministries in Minneapolis.

"For the pastor to confront him and then trust the guy that he's not going to do this any more, that's very naive," Laaser said.

Laaser would not necessarily advocate firing a pastor for an isolated problem of viewing sexually explicit material, he said. But those in charge of the congregation need to be informed and the pastor should be sent for an independent evaluation by a team of experts to determine the extent of his problems.

The father is contemplating his legal alternatives.

He also wants Valencia and Guest stripped of their ministerial credentials.

He has contacted the current head of the Bunyoro-Kitara diocese, Bishop Nathan Kyamanywa.

"He was obviously very concerned. They have strong feelings about this sort of thing in Uganda," he said.

The Post-Gazette was unable to contact Kyamanywa.

Bishop Robert Duncan of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is on sabbatical in France, but Assistant Bishop Henry Scriven is scheduled to meet with Guest soon. He is trying to determine whether Guest had a responsibility to follow diocesan guidelines for dealing with a subordinate when neither the church nor the subordinate are part of the diocese, Scriven said.

"Certainly I don't want to get out of any responsibility that we might have, and we will take any blame that is due to us," Scriven said. "This is one of the big issues with independent churches. To whom are they accountable?"

Ann Rodgers-Melnick can be reached at arodgersmelnick @post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416.

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