Suit claims rape at church.
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By DEBRA GRUSZECKI | Saturday, October 04, 1997 | (No comments posted.)

HAMMOND - An Indianapolis lawyer filed a lawsuit Friday against First

Baptist Church of Hammond, accusing the church and its pastor of allowing a

mentally retarded woman to be sexually assaulted for six years.

The civil suit filed in Lake Superior Court in Gary claims the Chicago woman

was "induced by agents" of the church in 1991 to ride a bus to attend Sunday

school at First Baptist, 523 Sibley St.

While in the care of the church, the lawsuit alleges, the woman was sexually

assaulted, molested, battered and raped more than once through fall 1996.

For that reason, lawyer Vernon Petri said, the church and its pastor, the

Rev. Jack Hyles, have been named as defendants in the suit.

"Both failed in their duty to protect her," Petri said.

Hyles called the accusations ridiculous.

"There's nobody in this world who is more opposed to this sexual molestation

or anything like that," he said. "We even preach against divorce. We are

totally opposed to sexual sin. There is nothing more obnoxious and abhorrent

than that."

Petri, who is a party in the suit filed on behalf of the woman, now 42, and

her sister, alleged in the lawsuit a pattern of assault can be traced to a

Sunday in 1991 when a First Baptist teacher saw someone abusing the woman and

reported it to church leaders and police.

The parents were never told, Petri said Friday, so the woman kept going to

church, where the suit claims she was threatened into silence.

"The thing that broke the camel's back came in the fall of 1996 when (the

woman) developed a horrible infection and was taken to a doctor to find out

what was wrong," Petri said. "When the doctor couldn't understand where the

infection was coming from, she was admitted to a hospital where they found,

embedded in her, a plastic object."

The woman then told what happened, Petri said Friday, recalling that a

church program instructor led her to a room and served as a lookout while two

to three males raped her.

Hyles said he would have been the first one to want someone punished for

such an act.

Hyles said the church told police about the teacher's report in 1991.

"We reported it immediately," he said. “And that's the only case we

know of. In fact, our records show the girl has not attended our church since

that occasion."

Hyles said accurate records are kept of attendance.

"For them to bring this up, when our records show no attendance since 1991,

is a total shock to me," he said.

Anthony Mancini, a Chicago lawyer who also represents the woman, said Friday

his client has been in a type of shock.

"She has suffered an incredible amount of emotional harm and physical pain

over this," he said. "This was her life, this was her church. This was her

place of worship, and she was violated by it."

Mancini said he knows of no arrests in connection with the woman's case in

1991 or in 1996, as a request to review files will be granted only with a

subpoena. "Now that we have filed suit, we will seek out the records to open up

the case and learn more about what happened."

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