Pastor: Church Should Have Looked into Ex-Minister's Past

By Jeremy Roebuck
The Monitor
July 1, 2008

EDINBURG -- A music minister's history of sexual involvement with teenage boys could have been uncovered with a thorough background check, his former boss said Tuesday.

Robert Richardson, pastor of Trinity Worship Center in Pharr, told a jury his predecessor's failure to ask questions about Robert Dale Franklin allowed the now ex-employee to come in contact with a 14-year-old congregant, who Franklin later admitted to abusing.

Richardson insisted, however, that once the situation came to his attention he took immediate action.

"It was a desperate situation," he said. "We did everything we needed to do."

His testimony came on the second day of a civil trial in which the teen's family claims the church knew about Franklin's past and never should have hired him.

Franklin, 42, is currently serving an 18-year prison sentence for having a three-month sexual relationship with the teen - now 18 - in 2004.

The two met when the boy's mother asked Franklin to counsel her son, but their friendship quickly grew to involve drug use, overnight sleepovers and eventually sex, he said at his sentencing hearing.

But as lawyers debated Tuesday how much church leaders knew and when they knew it, Franklin's brother maintained that the former minister had preyed on other teens over and over again and that Trinity's leadership knew about it.

John Franklin, of Pensacola, Fla., has not been called as a witness in the civil trial but said in an interview with The Monitor that both he and former Trinity pastor Robert Kane were aware of similar past incidents at churches in Pensacola, Glendive, Mont., and Romania.

One of those relationships eventually led to Robert Franklin losing his ministerial credentials with the Assembly of God Church.

He has only been convicted in the Trinity abuse case, however. Although he admitted to having sexual relationship with a boy in Montana, no other criminal charges have ever been filed against him.

Still, family and friends viewed Robert Franklin's job at Trinity as a new start.

"When he moved to Texas, I thought things would be brand-new," John Franklin said. "People thought (my brother's) life was in a good place and that he was starting new."

Kane, who left the church four years ago, hired Robert Franklin, hoping he could help invigorate Trinity's congregation. A young, charismatic worship leader, the new minister was an immediate hit.

In recorded video testimony played Tuesday, Kane said he made a conscious decision not to look into why his new music minister lost his credentials years before.

John Franklin, on the other hand, believes Kane had specific knowledge of past abuse.

"I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bob Kane knew," he said. "He told my mother that he knew and that it didn't matter."

The victim's family is asking for unspecified damages to compensate them for pain the abuse inflicted.

Since Robert Franklin's relationship with the teen came to light, the boy has contemplated suicide and has had dozens of hospital stays, their lawsuit states.

It is The Monitor's policy not to identify victims of sexual abuse or their families to protect their privacy. In their lawsuit, family members are only identified by the names Jane, Jim and John Doe.

John Franklin, meanwhile, says that while he doesn't agree with the family's decision to sue the church, he does feel Trinity owes them something.

"When a mother comes to church and puts her son in its hands, that's a sacred trust," he said. "When a person uses that for their own perverted means, I don't think there's anything further from God's way - nothing's more devilish."

Testimony in the civil trial is expected to resume this morning.


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