Pelham Hispanic Pastor Pleads Guilty to Sex-Abuse Charges

By Grace Thornton
Alabama Baptist [Pelham AL]
December 21, 2006

Several years ago when Luis Federico Garcia, a Hispanic pastor in Pelham, came clean about sexually abusing three girls in his congregation, fellow Pastor Mike Shaw of First Baptist Church, Pelham, did the only thing he knew to do grieve and then turn him in immediately.

After a long legal process, Garcia, 66, pleaded guilty Dec. 11 to three counts of first-degree sexual abuse involving three girls ages 6, 7 and 8, according to The Birmingham News. At his sentencing Feb. 12, 2007, he could face 10 years for each count.

"It's such a tragedy that it happened, that he took advantage of those children," Shaw said. From early 2000 until the time Shaw found out about the abuse, Garcia had used the vacant former building of First, Pelham, to house his growing congregation, Iglesia La Roca (The Rock Church).

"We wanted to do something to reach Hispanics in Pelham. It was very difficult to find Hispanic Baptists in those days," Shaw said. "He approached us with his need, and we felt he was sound in his doctrine though not Baptist. We decided to let him use that building without rent."

And even though Garcia never was on staff at First, Pelham, or authorized to use church vehicles as some media outlets have reported, Shaw ran a background check on Garcia before giving him the keys to the old building, just to be safe. It came back clean.

"This (situation) just reminds all of us you can never be too careful with your children. These are different days in which we live," Shaw said.

It definitely validated for leaders of First, Pelham, the necessity of the video surveillance cameras that scan the halls and rooms of the children's facility at its new campus.

"Our church has a system that you have to abide by when you're doing child care here, and a child is never alone with an adult," Shaw said.

And the Hispanic congregation's new pastor jumped through those same rigorous hoops before being allowed to use the facilities at First, Pelham.

"He's not on our staff either, but he was treated as though he was we screened him the same way," Shaw said. "When you get burned, you learn."

Shaw said he's thrilled at the way the Hispanic church now renamed Iglesia Casa de Dios (House of God Church) and held in the choir room at the new campus of First, Pelham, on Sunday afternoons is recovering and growing.

"When you go through a rough time and are faithful, God blesses," Shaw said. "Their church is doing well, our church is doing well and we look for God to do great things through the two congregations."


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