Five victims of a former youth minister in prison for molestation are suing the Nazarene Church, saying warning signs about his behavior were ignored.
"This is about what the church knew, what the church did about it and, more specifically, what the church didn't do about it,” their attorney, Jason Stephens, said Wednesday.
The victims — all girls — sued Tuesday in Oklahoma County District Court.
The defendants are the Nazarene Church, its northwest Oklahoma district, Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, Southern Nazarene University, former and current pastors, and a university counselor.
Stephens is a Texas attorney who won an almost $37 million verdict against the Lutheran Church in 2004 in a similar lawsuit.
Attorney Kirk Olson, who also represents the victims, said the families decided to sue to force the Nazarene Church to make changes in its policy. Olson said the decision to sue was made after much prayer.
Ryan Martin Wonderly, a former youth minister at Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, was sentenced in 2005 to 35 years in prison for molesting girls at the church.
He left the church in February 2003.
Among the allegations in the lawsuit are that Wonderly's roommates at Southern Nazarene University discovered he had been looking at child pornography on a computer, and the university allegedly recommended him for an internship as an elementary pastor at the Bethany church "as part of his program of getting ‘help.'”
Church officials declined comment Wednesday.