TULSA — A 17,000-member megachurch has been rattled by allegations that five employees waited two weeks to report the rape of a 13-year-old girl in a campus stairwell, allegedly by a church worker.
Tulsa police say the girl is among at least three victims of alleged sex crimes by two former employees of Victory Christian Center who face criminal charges. A child crimes investigator says more victims could surface as police continue to investigate.
Authorities, however, fear some parishioners in the large, tight-knit south Tulsa congregation may choose to pray about the allegations rather than provide concrete evidence.
Police said this week that the worldwide ministry's pastor and co-founder, Sharon Daugherty, whose daily broadcasts are beamed via satellite to more than 200 countries, knew about the abuse allegations, but trusted ministry employees to follow in-house policies on reporting such incidents.
Former church employee Chris Denman, 20, was arrested Sept. 5, accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in a stairwell before a church service on Aug. 13. He also is charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl sometime between Aug. 13 and Aug. 17. He has pleaded not guilty and faces an Oct. 11 preliminary hearing, court records show.
Another ex-employee, 23-year-old Israel Shalom Castillo, was arrested Thursday morning after turning himself in at the Tulsa jail. He is charged with making a lewd proposal to a child and using a computer to commit a sex crime.
Prosecutors this week also charged five church employees — including Daugherty's son and daughter-in-law, who are both youth pastors — for failing to report the alleged assault between Aug. 15 and Aug. 30. John Daugherty, Charica Daugherty, Paul Willemstein, Anna George and Harold “Frank” Sullivan each face one misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse and are due to be arraigned Wednesday in Tulsa County District Court.
Tulsa attorney Jason Robertson, who is representing the five employees, did not return a phone message seeking comment Thursday afternoon. An assistant in his firm indicated he was out of town.
The ministry — founded in 1981 by Sharon and the late Billy Joe Daugherty and shaped in a similar mold to Tulsa televangelist Oral Roberts' charismatic Christian ministries — issued statements this week accepting responsibility for the lapse in reporting. A request to interview Daugherty was declined by a public relations firm hired by Victory Christian Center.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the church said its employees failed to follow a written policy requiring any allegation of abuse to be reported by employees to the state's Department of Human Services, and internally within one hour to their department head and the director of human resources.