Pastor: No cover-up of alleged rape

Last modified: Friday, May 28, 2010
The former pastor of Concord's Trinity Baptist Church says that there was no attempt to cover up the alleged rape of a 15-year-old parishioner in 1997 and that he immediately reported the crime to the police after learning of it.

'I was the first one to report this to the police, as was my duty. . . . The people who didn't do their job was the Concord Police Department,' said Chuck Phelps, 51, who is now senior pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis.

Phelps was the pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, located on 80 Clinton St., when a woman, now 28, says she was raped twice and impregnated by a fellow church member. Ernest Willis, 51, of Gilford was arrested last week and charged with two counts of rape and two counts of having sex with a minor.

Willis is free on $100,000 personal recognizance bail and is due in Concord District Court on June 16 for arraignment.

The woman told the police Phelps helped move her to Colorado after she revealed she was pregnant. The Concord police have said their investigation in 1997 was hampered by not being able to contact the victim.

But Phelps said yesterday that he reported the crime, as well as the names of the victim and alleged perpetrator, to the police and the Division for Children, Youth and Families within 24 hours of learning about it. He said that the woman remained in the area for at least two to four weeks before moving away and that he was never contacted by the police.

'I'm not in the ministry to hide felons,' Phelps said. 'I'm not in the ministry to hide child abuse.'

Deputy Police Chief John Duval yesterday declined to comment on Phelps's statements or the events of 1997, saying the case is still under investigation.

'Be responsible'

Willis was charged nearly 13 years after the woman says he raped her twice, once while he was teaching her to drive and a second time at her Concord house when she was home alone. She became pregnant and told a neighbor and then her mother, who contacted Phelps, she told the police in a statement.

According to the woman, Phelps said she shared some guilt in the situation and had her write a letter asking forgiveness from the church for 'allowing a compromising situation to occur' that led to 'immorality.'

Phelps said yesterday that he didn't tell the woman she was responsible for what happened but that she needed to be responsible by avoiding contact with Willis, whose children she baby-sat.

'She's not responsible for being raped. Of course not. She was an underage minor. That's why I called' the police, Phelps said.

Phelps said he told her to 'be responsible, don't allow yourself to be around a person you know to be dangerous. She knew this person was dangerous after the first time, but she continued to be around him. . . . She needed to be responsible.'

At a church meeting, the woman said, Willis confessed to being unfaithful to his wife and Phelps read her letter about her pregnancy as she stood before the congregation.

Phelps said the meeting was not any sort of punishment, but was intended to inform the congregation and create a safe environment for people to help the woman with her pregnancy.

'I expected Ernie Willis to be arrested,' Phelps said. 'So to prepare the church for his imminent arrest, I communicated with the church or had him communicate with the church that he had been unfaithful to his marital vows. And to the young lady, she was with child, she needed help. . . . There was no discipline. Discipline implies she was put out. She was not put out. She was embraced.'

The woman told the police Phelps helped move her to Colorado after she came forward. There, she said, she was home-schooled, was kept away from people her own age and gave birth to her daughter, who was then adopted.

Phelps said the woman was sent away in accordance with her mother's wishes, to continue her studies in a safe home. He said that he knew the couple the woman stayed with through his previous work as a minister in Colorado and that they were experienced in home-schooling.

'Her mother turned to us and said, 'I can't care for a daughter in this situation,' and our recommendation was, 'What would you like us to do?' . . . Her mom did not want her in the public school. That was her mother's decision. What else was there to do?' he said.

Phelps denied there was any intent 'to cover this up.'

'There was never any attempt to keep her from the public. None whatsoever,' he said. 'We don't build compounds and shield people from public contact. This is not a cult.'

Apology demanded

During his time at Trinity Baptist Church, Phelps said, he made several reports to DCYF after becoming aware of abuse situations, though none were as serious as the 1997 incident.

'I've always known, if there was a matter of abuse, it's something we're not going to deal with. It's a matter of law,' he said.

Phelps wants an apology from the Concord police for, he says, implying that there was a cover-up in 1997. He said he has retained an attorney and is considering legal action.

'They never did anything. Nothing! . . . And then they go around and spin it,' he said. 'I've been wronged. The church has been wronged. Somebody needs to make it right.'

Phelps said he called the police the evening of Oct. 8, 1997, and reported what the woman had said about being raped. He said he gave the police her name as well as Willis's name. He also called DCYF, which later called him back and said the police would handle the investigation, he said.

Then, Phelps said, 'I interviewed the young person, and after interviewing the young person, I discovered that she was unwilling to go to the police. . . . Her mother was unwilling to take her to the police.'

He said he didn't know why the victim didn't want to go to the police.

Phelps said he called the Concord police again the evening of Oct. 9 and said the woman 'did not want to come in.'

That, Phelps said, was his last contact with the police until this week.

'To even imply that there's been obstruction of justice, to the only person who has made a report, is beyond the pale,' he said.

Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com.