Hammond Baptist hopes former minister's plea is amen to sex scandal

2012-09-20T20:30:00Z 2012-09-21T00:14:52Z Hammond Baptist hopes former minister's plea is amen to sex scandalBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
September 20, 2012 8:30 pm  • 

HAMMOND | The First Baptist Church of Hammond and its former minister Jack Schaap both seek closure to the sex scandal that has caused so much grief for believers.

"We as a church are praying for the families involved and look forward to a day in the near future when we can restore the name of First Baptist Church in our community," Eddie Wilson, a church spokesman, said after Schaap agreed to plead guilty to crossing state lines for the purpose of having sex with a 17-year-old female church member earlier this year.

The agreement calls on a federal judge to impose a 10-year prison term on Schaap, who authorities detained Wednesday afternoon following his initial hearing in U.S. District Court. Schaap also would have to register as a sex offender wherever he lived after release from prison.

"We are constantly getting asked whether we think (the proposed sentence) is fair," Wilson said Thursday.

"We are not trying to determine what is fair. We were just trying to do what was right. Whatever justice is served will be fair because we believe in our justice system."

The church's deacon board dismissed Schaap on July 31 and shared with law enforcement officials information that Schaap had a romantic liaison with the girl.

The U.S. attorney's office charged Schaap on Tuesday. He is scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday to a felony count of transporting the girl out of Indiana in June and July with intent to engage in sex in Cook County and Michigan's Wexford County.

Paul Stracci, a Merrillville defense lawyer representing Schaap, said Schaap issued a statement:

"Last summer, I engaged in inappropriate conduct with a young lady. In doing so, I caused harm to the young lady and her family. I also caused pain and heartache to many other people, my wife and children, my family and friends and members of our church.

"Rather than cause further harm by dragging all those affected through a long, protracted legal process, I've decided to accept legal responsibility for my actions. I hope that my decision to not contest this matter, will allow everyone to move forward with their lives.

"It is always distressing when a spiritual leader acts in a way contrary to his belief and teachings, but spiritual leaders are men susceptible to sickness, weakness, stumbling and sinning. Faith, thankfully is not in men. Faith is in God."

The plea agreement states neither the U.S. attorney's office nor prosecutors in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan will file any additional charges against Schaap based on the events currently known to the government.

Wilson said the church hired a Florida-based law firm to investigate whether Schaap victimized any others. Wilson said he hasn't seen the report, which was forwarded to authorities. He said he is unaware of any other victims coming forward to church officials.

A source within Indiana law enforcement said Thursday the guilty plea is likely the end of the case.

Wilson issued a written statement late Tuesday stating the church's 15,000 members "are deeply saddened by the events that led up to this day."

"We are sorry for the victim and the victim's family as well as the Schaap family. We grieve with all who have been hurt."

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