5 things to know about church child sex abuse scandal in West Lafayette
Jan. 7 update: The national governing body of the Reformed Presbyterian Church announced Jan. 6 that Jared Olivetti must refrain from exercising his duties as pastor pending the result of his ecclesiastical trial. Read more here.
A West Lafayette pastor could potentially be removed from office following an investigation into his handling of allegations of sexual abuse within his congregation.
Jared Olivetti, who is the head pastor at Immanuel Reformed Presbyterian Church, and other elders who served in 2020 are under investigation by the denomination and are facing religious charges at the national level, according to multiple interviews and documents obtained by IndyStar, after the elder board intentionally kept quiet allegations of abuse involving eight children from six families.
The perpetrator, a teenage boy, is a relative of Olivetti. The pastor failed to recuse himself despite the clear conflict of interest and shaped Immanuel’s internal investigation. (IndyStar is not indicating the relationship between the two to avoid identifying the boy. The Star does not name minors unless they are charged as adults.)
Here are five things you need to know about our investigation into the handling of abuse at the West Lafayette church.
‘No sanctuary’: A boy sexually abused up to 15 kids. His pastor relative protected him.
The head pastor was aware of abusive behavior as early as October 2019
Olivetti was made aware of inappropriate behavior toward two children from the congregation in October 2019, according to internal church records obtained by IndyStar, when the boy was seen reaching down the back of a child's pants and again when he allegedly propositioned another child and touched their chest without their consent.
Apparently unknown to Olivetti at that time was the fact that the boy had already begun seriously abusing children from at least two other children, according to church records.
Church leaders intentionally delayed notifying Presbytery of the allegations
In a July 2020 meeting with Joshua Greiner, a pastor at neighboring Faith Church West, Olivetti said elder meeting notes regarding the allegations were going to be kept in a separate record from notes that would otherwise be shared with Presbytery.
"We’re not sending a report up,” Olivetti said during the conversation, a recording of which was obtained and reviewed by IndyStar.
Days later, Immanuel leaders told Greiner they had contacted the Presbytery by way of the ad-interim commission — a group appointed to stand in as the authoritative body when Presbytery isn’t in session — and created a committee to advise the elders as they investigated.
However, Immanuel was the congregation assigned as the ad-interim commission at that time, according to church records. Essentially, they notified themselves and hand-picked the men who would advise them through the investigation.
Church leaders were aware of the abuse for nearly five months before informing the congregation
Immanuel elders were made aware of the allegations — broadly, not necessarily in detail — in April 2020, after one family confronted Olivetti about abuse and reported to the Indiana Department of Child Services, according to church records. Two elders, Nate Pfeiffer and Zachary Blackwood, were tasked with investigating.
Despite recommendations from the committee appointed to advise the elders, the congregation was not notified of the abuse until September 6, 2020.
The exact timeline of abuse is unclear
The children from the church are not the only known victims.
Investigators identified as many as 15, according to Tippecanoe County court records, although it’s unclear whether all eight victims from the congregation are reflected in that total and how many are from outside the church. Records released to IndyStar by a county court present an inconsistent timeline of the abuse, at one point alleging it may have continued through January 2021.
IndyStar has repeatedly asked Tippecanoe County officials for clarification. Court officials have declined to answer additional questions regarding discrepancies in the records, citing Indiana Code and the Code of Judicial Conduct, claiming the matter is still pending. However, a disposition has already been entered in the case.
The boy was found delinquent on what would be multiple felonies
In Indiana, juvenile charges aren’t the same as adult charges — instead of being convicted, Hoosier youth can be found delinquent of charges that would be felonies for adults.
Court records show the boy was found delinquent on what would be seven felony counts of child molestation in July of this year. He was remanded to a residential facility.
Report abuse immediately
Indiana law requires any adult who suspects a child is being abused or neglected to report those suspicions to law enforcement or the Indiana Department of Child Services. Reports can be made anonymously 24/7 via the DCS hotline: 1-800-800-5556.
You can reach IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Immanuel Reformed Presbytarian Church abuse scandal: What to know