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
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
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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