Church court to rule on sex abuse allegations

April 23, 2008


The Presbytery of Chicago will convene an ecclesiastical court to rule on allegations the church made against an Elmwood Park pastor who has been accused of sexual abuse by a former congregant.

The Rev. Robert Reynolds, Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery, confirmed charges were filed against the Rev. Ronald Campbell, but declined to provide further details of the charges.

The charges were filed against Campbell on March 19, according to an e-mail sent by the Presbytery's lawyer, David Strom, to the former congregant's lawyer, Thomas McCauley. A copy of the e-mail was obtained by Pioneer Press.

The Presbytery is the governing body for 117 congregations in Cook, Lake and DuPage counties. Its court is not a legal proceeding, but will determine whether Campbell violated the Presbytery's Child Protection Policy, which outlines definitions of abuse, reporting and screening procedures and training of staff and volunteers.

The policy also states, "Violation of this policy shall be considered grounds for disciplinary action, pastoral counsel, and/or possible legal action."

Reynolds would not comment if Campbell would be forced to step down as pastor if found guilty.

Two years ago, Julie Lemley Hokanson, now 37, told the Presbytery she had been repeatedly molested and raped by Campbell from 1984 to 1988 when Campbell was the youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church of River Forest. Lemley Hokanson was 14 when the alleged abuse started.

Lemley Hokanson, who now lives in Minnesota, said she expects to testify in the church's trial.

Prior to the trial, a conference will occur between the accused, the prosecuting committee, composed of church members, and the judicial commission, composed of six Presbyterian clergy and church members and a clerk, Reynolds said. The purpose of the pretrial conference is to "seek agreement on a statement of facts and disputed issues, to exchange documents and other evidence, and to take other action which might reasonably and impartially narrow the dispute and expedite its resolution," according to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church.

During the trial, the complainant, respondent and witnesses can give testimony. Each party may be represented by counsel. After the trial, a respondent can appeal to a higher church governing body if the respondent disagrees with the judicial commission's decision, according to the church's constitution.

It's unclear if Campbell remains an active pastor at Elmwood Park Presbyterian Church now that the Presbytery has filed charges. Reynolds would not comment on Campbell's status as pastor.

"Under the constitution of our church, a person accused of wrongdoing is presumed innocent until found guilty of wrongdoing," Reynolds said.

As of April 14, Campbell's name still appeared on the church sign outside of Elmwood Park Presbyterian Church.

Campbell did not return messages left at Elmwood Park Presbyterian Church and Trinity International University, where he works as director of financial aid and director of admission for the divinity and graduate school. In an e-mail through Trinity spokesman Gary Cantwell, Campbell declined to comment on the charges.

The church charges have not affected Campbell's position at the school, Cantwell said.

"We respect the Presbytery's process," Cantwell remarked. The school will wait until the end of the proceedings to make any decision about Campbell's position at the school, he said.

Last month marked two years since Lemley Hokanson told the Presbytery of the alleged abuse. After Lemley Hokanson came forward, the Presbytery investigated the allegations and, in August 2007, gave Lemley Hokanson $100,000, without Campbell admitting wrongdoing.

In response to the media coverage in March, First Presbyterian Church of River Forest, Campbell's former church, sent a letter to congregants asking them to "refrain from participating in any form of gossip," wrote the Rev. Rich Davis. Davis e-mailed a copy of the letter to Lemley Hokanson and her mother, Carolyn Lemley, prior to mailing the letter to the congregation.

Davis' letter also listed measures in place at the church to ensure safety, such as child protection training and background checks of all volunteers and staff members.

Davis did not return repeated phone calls for comment.,rf-church-042308-s1.article