Expert: Churches Should Be Stringent with Youth Pastor Checks

By Mark Caudill
News Journal
July 18, 2008

MANSFIELD — A national expert recommends more stringent background checks of youth pastors.

David Allburn, executive director of Safe Harbor Resources and the National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, is critical of the process, although background checks are required for youth pastors.

"The scope and content of the checks is usually superficial," Allburn said. "Faith groups are especially vulnerable to cherishing the myth that 'it can't happen here,' so their leaderships usually feel that background checks are a routine to be accomplished as fast and cheap as possible."

Former Mansfield youth pastor John Picard, 40, was arrested Thursday in Springboro on 10 counts of sexual battery reportedly involving a teenage parishioner. He is accused of having sexual relations with a girl starting in 1992 when she was 13 and continuing until she reached adulthood. Picard was a youth pastor at Grace Brethren Church on Marion Avenue at the time.

Mansfield police said Picard has not been involved with Grace Brethren Church for about four years.

"Allegations started surfacing," Lt. Allen Vandayburg previously told the News Journal. "The ministers decided they didn't need his services anymore."

The Rev. J. Hudson Thayer did not return a call seeking comment.

Allburn recommends having youth pastors undergo an FBI fingerprint check.

"It exposes arrests from all states at once, going back more than 50 years, and revealing all fake names the sexual predator provided police when arrested," he said. "Actually, nobody knows for sure what an individual's name is, and, in fact, we might not care.

"He can call himself Donald Duck if he wants to because the FBI fingerprint check tells if that person was arrested for anything more serious than traffic and minor misdemeanors, no matter what his name."

According to Mansfield Municipal Court records, Picard had nothing more than a handful of traffic offenses before Thursday's arrest. He has no felony record in Richland County.

Police said they think there are more victims. Detective Jeff Shook opened the case in 2005. He said some of the alleged abuse occurred in the church, while other reported incidents happened at Picard's 419 Sloane Ave. residence.

Vandayburg said Picard has been working in Springboro for a steel company for some time but moved there only three or four months ago.

Anyone with information relating to the Picard case is asked to call Shook at 419-774-3533.

"The goal is to make this case so devastating to him that it stays out of the courtroom for the protection of these girls," Vandayburg said.

In a previous case at Grace Brethren Church, Michael Sloan was charged in 2001 with sexual contact with seven teenage girls he met through the church. He pleaded no contest to five counts of sexual imposition and two counts of importuning — all misdemeanors — for inappropriately touching or soliciting the girls. He was given a one-year diversion sentence.

Contact: mcaudill@nncogannett.com419-521-7219.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.