Ahead of sentencing, letter reveals former Hammond pastor's relationship with victim

2013-03-14T14:30:00Z 2014-10-15T15:54:09Z Ahead of sentencing, letter reveals former Hammond pastor's relationship with victimChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, 219-933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Former Hammond megachurch Pastor Jack Schaap wrote a teenage girl Christ wanted them to become “eternal lovers,” according to a court document filed this week. Schaap is set to be sentenced Wednesday for his relationship with the 17-year-old girl.

Schaap has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Hammond to a sexual relationship with the girl, who he had been counseling after a school administrator told the former pastor she was engaging in self-destructive behaviors, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by the U.S. attorney's office.

Schaap was abruptly fired from the First Baptist Church of Hammond in July after its leaders learned of the relationship. A new head pastor since has been hired to lead the 15,000-member church.

Schaap told the girl that through her, he felt loved by God, according to a letter contained in the memorandum.

“I gave Him my heart when I was 5, I gave Him my life when I was 17. And yes I love Him + know Him + understand much about Him, but, sometimes I just need to 'feel' His love in a way that only He can provide ... and this week, through you, I have 'felt' His love,” according to a letter Schaap wrote the girl.

Schaap has argued for leniency from the 10-year sentence recommended by the government, claiming he suffered from extreme stress and depression from a 100-hour workweek schedule and complications with his prostate when the criminal conduct occurred, federal court records show.

However, the government argues Schaap's problems were “self-inflicted” and Schaap was free to step down from the church at any time. The U.S. attorney's office points to photos that show Schaap with the girl at his Illinois house and Michigan cabin where he's smiling or lying with the girl in an intimate pose.

“The only way (Schaap) could have been working 100-hour weeks during the time-period investigated by the government is if he's counting the many hours he dedicated to grooming and sexually abusing the victim,” according to the filing.

According to the government's investigation, Schaap and the girl called or texted each other more than 660 times in the weeks before his criminal conduct was discovered, and the former pastor had initiated the conversation a majority of the time.

At the church's youth conference shortly after the Michigan trip in July, staff grew concerned of the amount of time Schaap was spending with the girl. But Schaap denied inappropriate conduct, explaining that the girl needed to rest on the couch in his office, according to the filing.

The government also asks the court to review the more than 140 letters sent on Schaap's behalf in context, arguing the writers don't know the extent of his conduct.

Schaap had been counseling the girl as early as last April after she was having issues coping with a past relationship, court records state. A school administrator had advised the girl she needed to “allow a few, much wiser people, to take the 'steering-wheel' of her life right now and make the right decisions to get her back on track," records show.

The girl said she grew up watching Schaap's sermons, and he was a “celebrity to me,” according to a letter she submitted to the court.

“When I asked him if it was wrong,” the girl wrote of the relationship, “he told me no, and that I was his precious gift from God.”

Her father tells the court in a letter that Schaap manipulated his daughter and said the family since has been “banned” from the Hammond church that they've attended for most of their lives. He said his daughter is upset and confused and had to change schools, where her grades have suffered.

“We taught our children to have implicit faith and trust in pastors,” the father wrote. “I never imagined such emotional and psychological harm could be inflicted on our daughter and family by a man and Church I respected and trusted.”

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