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Calvary Chapel's Mothership Connection

Are Potato State perverts threatening the church's OC base?

A civil case working its way through Idaho courts could open the door for sexual-abuse victims and others who have been harmed by leaders in Calvary Chapels around the country to sue the mothership church in Orange County.  

On June 21, Calvary Chapel attorneys asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed in Idaho's 1st District Court alleging that Santa Ana-based Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and Pastor Bob Davis of North Country Chapel in Post Falls, Idaho, concealed a known sexual predator in their midst.

Filed in August 2011 by four men in their early 20s, it alleges that Anthony L. Iglesias molested them from 2000 to 2003 when they were teenagers after North Country Chapel summoned the pastor back from the church's mission work at a Thailand orphanage, where he allegedly molested other boys. Santa Ana-based Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowships, the church-growth wing of the nearly 50-year-old movement that authorizes ministers to become Calvary Chapel pastors, is also named in the lawsuit.

Jonathan Bartlett

In response, church attorneys are arguing Calvary Chapel has no administrative control over the Idaho congregation, and therefore isn't responsible for failing to protect the four boys from Iglesias, who allegedly already had a record of inappropriately touching youngsters. He was yanked from ministry at Calvary Chapel Golden Springs in Diamond Bar after allegedly molesting a minor and is now serving time in the South Idaho Correctional Facility on convictions for lewd and lascivious conduct with two boys in 2003.

According to the lawsuit, in Idaho, Iglesias "dared" one victim to "touch his penis" and forced him to "perform oral sex" on him. The abuse also included "masturbation, fondling, anal penetration and other deviant sexual acts." Iglesias allegedly told one victim that this behavior was "normal" and explained that "kids in Thailand do this all the time," adding in reference to masturbation, "One kid pretended it was like driving a stick shift."

If the courts hold Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowships and Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa partly responsible for the alleged molestations, expect more lawsuits to follow. Calvary Chapel brands itself as a network of independent churches connected by pastors who share the beliefs of founder Chuck Smith. Officially, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowships loudly proclaim the independence of their satellite churches.

But critics say the church cherry-picks occasions in which to intervene in branch matters, such as when it seems politically feasible, especially if a Calvary Chapel pastor runs afoul of the doctrines taught by Smith. Doctrine is one thing, but when it comes to matters of church discipline, including that of wayward Calvary Chapel pastors, the mothership, led by Smith, will mostly take a hands-off approach to avoid the appearance of having any authority over the churches that bear its name.

In a fiery exchange that erupted on the RemnantXRadio podcast in December, Smith traded verbal shots with Alex Grenier, the stepson of Pastor Bob Grenier, the leader of Calvary Chapel Visalia who years ago avoided expulsion from the organization when he renounced the doctrines of Calvinism—the concept that mankind has no true free will in choosing to follow God—in which he had been dabbling.

Alex Grenier currently leads a campaign of accusations against his stepfather, saying the pastor was a pill-popper who brutalized him and his brothers when they were children, including punching one sibling in the face. In the middle of an interview with Alex, host Jeremy Bowling reached Smith by phone, and the old man, who called God's judgment down on him just weeks earlier from his Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa pulpit, wasted no time telling the world what he thinks of Grenier the younger.

Smith told Grenier he was guiltier than his dad, "as far as the anger and the bitterness and the attempt" to destroy the Calvary Chapel-approved senior pastor; he suggested that it was a worse sin than a father punching his son in the face.

But what of the alleged sins of the Grenier patriarch and Smith's authority to do anything about it, such as, at minimum, calling for an objective investigation while the Calvary Chapel-affiliated pastor takes a sabbatical?

"I don't have any authority over his dad; I only have authority over those who are my employees at our Calvary Chapel here," Smith told Bowling.

But the courts may rule otherwise when it comes to the question of Smith's responsibility for pervert pastors—a problem for Calvary Chapel that, unfortunately, isn't limited to the Potato State.

Here in Orange County, Christopher Raymond Olague, pastor of Refuge Southland Calvary Chapel in Buena Park, was arrested in October after allegedly picking up an 8-year-old girl for a playdate with one of his five daughters, molesting her and giving her $40 to keep it a secret. In November, he was arrested for allegedly keeping kiddie porn on a computer in his Westminster home. Olague has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Aug. 7.

And in August 2011, a Humboldt County judge sentenced Dino Cardelli, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Arcata, to 18 years in prison for molesting his two stepdaughters.

Lawyers for Pastor Bob Davis at North Country Chapel and Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowships did not return messages seeking comment on the Idaho cases, but Virginia McNulty Robinson, Davis' attorney, recently told the Coeur D'Alene Press that the allegations were "absurd." Randall Adams, the lawyer representing Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowships, added that there is no connection between his client or the mothership in Orange County and Iglesias or the four men, saying that neither the church nor its outreach wing had any information about Iglesias' past conduct before the alleged abuse occurred.

But the lawyers are facing an unassuming buzz saw in Idaho attorney Leander James, who recently helped negotiate a $166 million settlement between the Northwest Jesuits and sex-abuse victims.

"I don't think my clients have an absurd case," James told the Weekly. Instead, he argued, what's absurd is that a church would allegedly affiliate itself with a known predator. "Our allegation is that [Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa] is in essence a parent organization that has a duty and responsibility to Calvary Chapel churches and their congregants and their children," he said.

The extent of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa's legal responsibility may come down to the laws in each state, says Kelly Clark, a Portland, Oregon-based attorney and advocate for child-abuse victims. The issue is whether the law provides accountability for the organization for whom the alleged perpetrator was working, he says, and whether the organization had the ability to control his actions.

Calvary Chapel's clusterfuck is even more complicated because of its loosely threaded network of congregations that fly the mothership's logo, yet say they are not agents of Smith's church, concludes Clark. "The church gets all the benefits of the good priests," he reasons. "Why don't they have to pick up the wreckage when it goes bad?"

This article appeared in print as "Mothership Connection: Is Calvary Chapel's hands-off approach to local churches under threat by a pervert pastor in the Potato State?"

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