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South Haven pastor: 'We tried to prevent what happened to us'

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The Emmanuel Baptist Church of South Haven has had many different safeguards in place for years aimed at protecting children from abuse, according to Senior Pastor John Allen.

But two years ago, then-youth pastor Timothy Lawrence was charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with the two girls from the church during 2013-14, including one girl who had confided with him that she had suffered abuse at home, according to charging information.

"We tried to prevent what happened to us," Allen said Wednesday. "But you can't ... We did everything we could."

The case involving Lawrence, which is still pending in the courts, is among several sex-related accusations leveled at church leaders from various denominations across the Region over the years. Some of the cases resulted in convictions, while others were never charged or the charges were dropped.

The cases shed light on the significant challenges churches face in attempting to prevent these types of offenses and the struggles they face in recovering once they occur. The challenge is not unlike the seemingly insurmountable task of keeping students safe in this era of school shootings.

"It isn't any one segment of religion," Allen said. "Anywhere there are people there are potential problems."

Emmanuel Baptist Church conducts regular background checks of anyone in a leadership role having contact with children, and requires adults to operate in pairs, undergo training in child protection and attend the church for at least six months before taking charge in anyway, he said.

"You can't guarantee that nobody will ever do anything wrong," Allen said.

The Catholic Diocese of Gary has its own lengthy education/awareness program required of all employees and volunteers who have contact with children, said Director of Communications Debbie Bosak.

There are also age-appropriate instructions for students so they understand what is appropriate and not, and where they can go for help, she said.

"Their safety and well being is always a priority," Bosak said.

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The local diocese, which covers Lake, Porter, LaPorte and Starke counties, implemented these efforts in the early 1990s, which was ahead of the national awareness of the issue, she said.

"We didn't want to be reactive," she said.

If allegations of sexual abuse do arise, the diocese both notifies police and conducts an internal investigation led by a review board.

Emmanuel Baptist Church reported its alleged offenses when they came to light and not only stepped up its vigilance since, but also created a security team that patrols the property in preparation for any types of problems, Allen said.

"We don't ever want this to happen again," he said

"It takes its toll," Allen said, describing how the church lost members in the wake of the allegations.

The case also "crushed the teens" at the church and left Allen particularly sensitive to Tuesday's news of the grand jury report of more than 300 "predator priests" in Pennsylvania leaving more than 1,000 known sexual abuse victims in their wake over 70 years.

"Obviously your heart just breaks for what's going on," he said.

Other allegations from around the Region

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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