Church tries to ‘out’ underage victims of Bible school abuser
Angered by a sexual abuse lawsuit brought against it by the victims of a former Bible school volunteer, a Kansas church has asked a court to identify two girls who were abused by Kessler Lichtenegger, above.
Lichtenegger pleaded guilty last year to attempted rape and attempted electronic solicitation involving the girls who attended the Westside Family Church.
The girls, who were both younger than 14 years old, and their families, filed a lawsuit on June 9 that alleges church officials knew about Lichtenegger’s extensive past sexual conduct and crimes involving children.
According to this report, the lawsuit, and its timing, upset church officials, who took the unprecedented step of asking a judge to publicly identify the underage victims.
The church filed a petition last month asking the court to require the two teenage sisters and their parents to identify themselves publicly before their lawsuit may proceed.
Church officials accused the family of launching “a Pearl Harbor-styled barrage of negative publicity” timed to coincide with the start of this year’s vacation Bible school.
The petition alleges that the girls and their parents had leaked their complaint to the media before serving notice of the lawsuit to the congregation.
While the Defendant admits the sensitivity of the allegations, Plaintiffs tactically decided to ‘draw first blood’ on the issue publicly. In time, that may ultimately be seen in hindsight to be a bad decision. However, they should not be able to hide behind pseudonyms after systematically and intentionally initiating a campaign specifically designed to damage Defendant’s reputation.
The petition is highly unusual, said veteran survivors advocate David Clohessy, Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
This has happened in a relatively small number of cases involving adults, but I’ve never seen a defendant try to ‘out’ kids who are still kids in a child sex case.
Clohessy, who has worked for 28 years as a victims advocate, and his organisation showed up at the church June 8 with protest signs to answer questions from the media, which the group often does.
He told Baptist Global News that the church’s legal attack against the child survivors would deter other child victims from coming forward and allow more predators to harm children.
Clohessy, himself an abuse survivor who testified before the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, called the attempt to name the girls a “stunningly callous” tactic more befitting “cold-hearted CEOs” than “caring shepherds” watching over a spiritual flock.
This mean-spirited move will deter others who see, suspect or suffer child sex crimes into staying silent, enabling more predators to hurt more kids. It will also rub more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of this suffering family. It is a shameful move by officials who profess to be ‘Christians’.
Lichtenegger is serving a 17-year sentence for the Westside vacation Bible school sex crimes, but the lawsuit says he also pleaded guilty in 2012 to a sexual assault the year before of a 15-year-old girl with developmental problems and to another previous sexual felony.