Minister charged with child sexual abuse

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Staff Reporter, The Press-Register, Alabama

BREWTON -- A part-time Southern Baptist preacher who lives in Brewton and pastors a Florida Panhandle church has been charged with sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl, authorities said Wednesday.

The Rev. Stephen Lyle "Steve" Whittaker, 40, listed on an online church directory as the pastor of Beaver Creek Baptist Church in Baker, Fla., surrendered to Brewton police after the girl's mother reported her suspicions to authorities on March 12, Brewton Police Sgt. Eric Suarez said.

Whittaker remained free on $5,000 bond Wednesday, authorities said. He was charged with first-degree sexual abuse.

Alabama law lists first-degree sexual abuse as a Class C felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison, and occurs when the victim is younger than 12 years old.

Whittaker is accused of fondling the girl, Suarez said.

The girl's mother called police after her daughter told schoolmates she had been abused repeatedly by Whittaker, who was well-known to the child, Suarez said.

The students told their parents, and one girl's mother called the alleged victim's mother about the allegations, Suarez said.

"She called police, and we went to her house and got information from the 11-year-old's mother and from the child," Suarez said. "Whittaker was contacted by phone, and he said he was out of town but would turn himself in."

Suarez said Whittaker did surrender at the police station Tuesday and "after a brief interview admitted touching the child several times," but Whittaker said the touching was accidental and "happened as they were playing."

Whittaker was released a day later, after posting bond.

Both Whittaker and the child said the incidents happened as the two would play, and the incidents were repeated many times over recent months, Suarez said.

Calls to Beaver Creek Baptist Church were not returned Wednesday. An answering service message listed Whittaker as pastor.

The Florida Baptist Convention Web site lists Beaver Creek Baptist on Beaver Creek Highway in Baker as having 33 members and lists Whittaker as the pastor. Another site lists the church as "currently seeking bi-vocational pastor."

Whittaker also worked as a chaplain with a Brewton hospice-care provider, a spokeswoman for the facility said.

The spokeswoman for Comfort Care Hospice asked that her name not be used, but confirmed Wednesday that Whittaker was employed with the company briefly in Brewton and no longer works there.

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