Sex abuse case heads to hearing

Sandusky Register [Sandusky OH]

May 31, 2022

By Matt Westerhold

For two men who grew up in Sandusky, a lawsuit filed in California might be their last chance to get some form of justice for a local minister they say sexually abused them for years, and for the church that did nothing to stop it.

The California statute of limitations allows more time for alleged survivors of childhood sexual assault to bring legal action. It also provides a “look back window,” which suspended all statute of limitations time constraints for three years.

That “window” ends this year.

For Victor and Roy Matthews, like many alleged victims, the California law has provided the opportunity to ask a court to hear the allegations and render a judgment.

They contend that Bishop Rev. Rufus Sanders, of the Emmanuel Temple Church on East Adams Street in Sandusky, sexually molested both of them when they were boys, beginning in the late 1970s through the early 1990s.

Some of that abuse happened on trips Sanders took with the boys to church conventions in California, according to their attorney Brian Kabateck.

“They were minors when these trips happened,” he said.

The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World Inc., the home church for Emmanuel Temple, along with numerous unnamed church officials identified in numerical fashion only as “John DOEs” (1 through 50) in the lawsuit, have many connections to California, according to Kabateck.

“It has a district, a diocese, in California and more than 500 members,” he said.

His law firm also has documented the church’s California connections, Kabateck said, and the conventions that took place that Rev. Sanders attended with the teenagers.

A California court will rule as soon as June 8 on whether it has jurisdiction to let the lawsuit go forward.

Waiting and waiting

The Register reported about the allegations made by Roy and Victor Matthews four years ago.

“Molesting the Faithful,” an award-winning three-part series, was published in September 2018. The following month, a reporter received an undated memo that appeared to be from Bishop Theodore L. Brooks Sr., presiding bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies.

It was addressed to the national church organization’s board of bishops.

“I have asked Bishops Sam Moore, Gregory Newman and Billy G. Newton to investigate and report back to me within the next 10 days,” the memo from Bishop Brooks states.

Brooks and the other bishops did not return repeated telephone calls or respond to emails at that time, and later, asking what was determined by the investigation they conducted. The findings of the investigation were never made available.

Wyatt McDowell, an attorney for the world church, also did not respond to emails sent to him at that time. He refused to say anything about the church’s investigation, whether Sanders was suspended or restored to his leadership position at Emmanuel Temple or if any action would be taken as a result of the investigation.

McDowell never returned telephone messages and email addresses for him appeared to have since been disabled after the initial contacts with him were made.

His company, ClergyZoom, formerly National Church and Clergy Management Assistance Corp., specializes in “the administrative, governance and legal needs of clergy persons, churches and religious organizations,” according to its website. McDowell refused to respond to questions about whether he’s represented the world church in similar circumstances in the past and whether there were other pending claims of abuse against the church.

Roy and Victor Matthews, now ages 58 and 59, in 2018 both told the Register that together with their siblings and in-laws they confronted Rev. Sanders in March 2017, and he acknowledged the abuse. They also reported the abuse to police in 2016, they said, but were told charges could not be filed due to the amount of time that had passed since the abuse ended.

The statute of limitations for rape in Ohio is 25 years.

Questions sent to the Rev. Sanders in 2018 and his attorneys went unanswered.

“In as much as I would like to respond to your questions posed to me by the Sandusky Register, I have been advised by counsel not to do so,” Rufus Sanders responded to an email sent to him on Sept. 24, 2018.

Emails sent to attorneys listed in the lawsuit as representing the defendants were not immediately responded to as of Sunday.

Read the Register’s three-part series here:

Molesting the faithful? — Sept. 25, 2018
Victor moves away — Sept. 26, 2018
Family confronts Bishop — Sept. 27, 2018

Church leaders speechless — Dec. 5, 2018