MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

August 4, 2013

Megachurch changing after sex abuse scandal


Associated Press

— TULSA (AP) — In the year since a 13-year-old girl was raped at a Tulsa megachurch, the 17,000-member global ministry has reached out to two state agencies to help update its child abuse and neglect manual and ramped up security measures across its sprawling campus, church leaders say.

Victory Christian Center overhauled programs amid fallout from the August 2012 scandal and myriad criminal and civil court proceedings. Two ex-janitors were accused of sex-related crimes and five other church workers, including a son and daughter-in-law of ministry co-founder Sharon Daugherty, were accused of waiting two weeks to report abuse.

The evangelical church, which beams its services to 200 countries from a campus across the street from Oral Roberts University, is defending itself in a lawsuit brought last September by the mother of the 13-year-old. The mother alleges the church was more worried about damage control than the well-being of her daughter, an argument the ministry denies.

Victory leaders intend to go into detail on its changes after its legal problems are settled, but the 600-employee church agreed to provide The Associated Press some information as the anniversary of the scandal approaches, said Justin Johnson, a spokesman for the ministry.

“As a church, we are learning from the past and continually looking ahead for ways in which we can better serve our community and our members,” head pastor Sharon Daugherty said in a statement to the AP, her first on the scandal in months.

The ministry’s accomplishments, the church said, include:

• Consulting Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services and Department of Health to assist in a review and update of its manual dealing with child abuse and neglect. DHS also conducted an on-site training session for employees.

• Conducting training sessions for all department supervisors who oversee programs with children and teenagers.

• Investing heavily in improved campus-wide security systems after completing a review of safety measures.

• Constantly reminding staff and congregation members to immediately report any child abuse they become aware of to the authorities.

Mike McCutchin, Victory’s director of finance and administration, said the church’s commitment to make the policy changes will “help improve ... internal reporting systems.”

John and Charica Daugherty — the family members charged with waiting to report abuse — have also made progress on conditions of a deferred sentence they received in March, according to court records and interviews with their attorney.

The couple, who each received five-year deferred sentences after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge, are required by the court to visit at least 20 organizations that work with children, such as churches or daycares, to talk with employees about promptly reporting abuse and what they had learned.

The Daughertys had already met with five churches and proposed a plan to the judge on how they would approach handling future meetings, according to a 29-page progress report filed with the court in June.

At a hearing on June 14, Tulsa County District Court Special Judge Bill Hiddle approved the plan and the couple’s progress and set the next review for December, records show.

Two cases remain before Victory Christian will comment broadly about the scandal.

Ex-janitor Israel Castillo, accused of making a lewd proposal to a 14-year-old girl, faces a Sept. 3 jury trial. He has pleaded not guilty.

A trial on the rape victim’s mother’s claims is scheduled for January if a settlement isn’t reached ahead of time. Chris Denman, a former janitor at the church, was sentenced to 55 years in prison last December.