Woman accuses former RF youth pastor of sex abuse


PIONEER PRESS (River Forest Leaves)

River Forest, IL

March 12, 2008

Even though Presbytery of Chicago authorities have found "sufficient evidence" to charge the Rev. Ronald Campbell with sexual abuse, Campbell has not been removed as an active pastor at Elmwood Park Presbyterian Church, 7600 Armitage Ave.

Julie Lemley Hokanson, now 37, came forward in March 2006 with her story of being repeatedly sexually molested and raped by Campbell from 1984 to 1988 while Campbell was the youth pastor at First Presbyterian Church of River Forest.

Lemley Hokanson was 14 when the alleged abuse started, the same age her daughter is now.

"I think, like most victims, I thought I would take the secret to my grave," Lemley Hokanson said. "The shame is something so heavy you don't want to talk about it. But I looked at my daughter and I don't want that to happen to anyone else."

Despite the expectation of a church trial to begin within three months, Campbell will not be forced to step down at the Elmwood Park church, said the Rev. Robert Reynolds, head of the Presbytery of Chicago, which governs 106 congregations in Cook, Lake and DuPage counties.

"In order to be removed from the position of ordained minister, a pastor must plead guilty, resign or be found guilty after a church trial," according to a written statement from Reynolds.

Campbell was not placed on administrative leave because the Chicago Presbytery found that "Rev. Campbell served in a church with (an) older congregation that did not have a youth group or children's Sunday school."

"All that means is that it's not as easy for him to have access to a child he wants to molest," said Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the victim advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

By being able to stay in his position at Elmwood Park Presbyterian Church, Campbell remains a figure of power and influence, Lemley Hokanson said.

Last week Lemley Hokanson, her family and representatives from SNAP called for Campbell's removal and urged church officials to inform congregants of both the Elmwood Park and River Forest churches of the pending charges.

Pioneer Press' calls to the churches were not returned. Because of the statute of limitations, Lemley Hokanson cannot file a lawsuit against Campbell. When she first went to the Presbytery with the allegations, Lemley Hokanson attempted an alternate resolution with Campbell through the Presbytery. One of the conditions for the mediation was for Campbell to admit guilt, but Campbell maintained his innocence, Lemley Hokanson said.

In August, the Presbytery gave Lemley Hokanson a $100,000 settlement.

Campbell could not be reached for comment, but he has continued to maintain his innocence, according to the Presbytery statement.

Lemley Hokanson said it is not punishment of Campbell that she wants, but by speaking publicly about her story, she hopes another child does not become a victim.

Lemley Hokanson remains deeply religious, attending church in Minnesota, where she now lives with her family.