Minister, elders guilty of not reporting abuse


New Hampshire Union Leader

November 25 , 2010

CONWAY – The minister and two elders at a local church have been found guilty for failing to report a case of suspected child abuse last year.

The three -- Pastor Timothy Dillmuth, 34, of Stowe, Maine, and elders Richard Eland, 62, and Robert Gagnon, 70, both of Brownfield, Maine -- are all members of Valley Christian Church on East Conway Road in Redstone. They will be sentenced Dec. 21 on the misdemeanor charges in the District Court of Northern Carroll County.

From left, Timothy Dillmuth, Richard Eland and Robert Gagnon

"God is a higher authority, not (the police) and they would do it again," District Court of Northern Carroll County Judge Pamela Albee wrote in her seven page decision, referring to testimony of a Conway police investigator of an interview he had with Eland.

A fourth man, Michael Wedge, 32, of Conway, cooperated with the investigation and his case was placed on file for one year.

Albee issued the guilty finding on Nov. 15, several weeks after the trial.

The three men, she wrote, sought to have immunity from criminal liability in failing to report the case of suspected child abuse, "arguing that they acted in good faith in persuading the parents and the perpetrator to make report of abuse." The men were arrested in early February by Conway police and charged that they had reason to suspect a girl had been sexually abused but did not report it as required by state law.

In her order, Albee said Dillmuth had met with the parents of a child who had been molested by a member of the church, which he later confirmed after talking to the child.

At trial, she wrote, "the information was shared with other members of the board of elders in September 2009," and was discussed at "some, but not every" meeting of the board.

A month later, another member of the church urged the parents of the child to report the incident to authorities and, Albee wrote, was told to "keep his mouth shut." Dillmuth also talked to the concern church members and, according to the court document, told that person to "keep his mouth shut and that it was being taken care of." That church member subsequently left the church after belonging for over five years.

Wedge testified that at meetings of the board of elders, the issue became contentious and that in November 2009, "he expressed concerns that the abuse had not been reported to the (Division of Family and Youth Services) or to the police," Albee wrote.

In early February, after another church member who heard about abuse threatened to report the case to police and DCYF, "Pastor Dillmuth was in agreement that the abuse had to be reported that day."

That person, and the mother of the child, said they would both make reports.

A Conway investigator was assigned to the case and he contacted DCYF, too.

"During the course of the investigation, the detective's focus turned to the elders' role in failing to report the child abuse," Albee wrote. It was at that time Eland said the elders "respond to a higher authority." Albee wrote that it was only after a church member threatened to report the suspected abuse to police that the church officials "put pressure on the parents ... to do what the elders had a duty to do months before, report the child abuse to authorities."

While the men argued they were immune from criminal liability because they acted "in good faith" to persuade the parents and perpetrator to report, Albee wrote that it was "deliberately attempted" to keep it within the church.

"To permit an immunity defense under the facts of this case would eviscerate the very purpose of the Child Protection Act and its reporting law provisions," she wrote.

The charges against the men are misdemeanors, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

According to its website, Valley Christian Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist Convention of New England and includes ministries for men, women and children.

See also:

N.H. minister, elders found guilty of failing to report abuse, Associated Baptist Press, 11/30/10

Police: Church officials didn't report sex abuse, Union Leader, 2/5/10