Lawsuit Filed Against Former Pastor

Thursday, April 24th 2008, 7:48 am
By: News On 6

Victims of rape and molestation and their families have filed a lawsuit against a Bethany church and university.   News On 6 reporter Jennifer Pierce reports the lawsuit comes nearly three years after the perpetrator, a former pastor, was convicted and sentenced.

Bethany First Church of the Nazarene and Southern Nazarene University are two of the defendants named in the petition.   The victims claim the church and school allowed a child predator around children despite complaints of inappropriate behavior.

"This civil case is about what the church knew and what the university knew and when they knew it, and what they did about it and more specifically, what they didn't do about it," Jason Stephens, the victims' attorney, said.

Bethany First Church of the Nazarene plays a key role in this lawsuit.

"Quickly after he started working and interning there at Bethany First Church, there were several written complaints from parents," Kirk Olsen, the victims' attorney, said.

The petition claimed the church did not conduct a background check on Wonderly, and that church ministers allowed him to intern and hired him knowing he was caught viewing child pornography while attending Southern Nazarene University. Wonderly is now in prison for his crimes, but these attorneys believe there are more victims out there.

"Mr. Wonderly worked at a church camp through the Nazarene Church where children from 22 counties from northwest Oklahoma attended each year," Olsen said.

Victims are seeking damages for the abuse they suffered while in the care of someone they thought they could trust.

"It's been very difficult for them to work through this process and taken them a long time and thought and prayer to come to the point to file the lawsuit against the church and the university," Stephens said.

Church ministers denied an on camera interview, but gave a statement. They said they are saddened by the filing of the lawsuit. And foremost in their minds and hearts are the students and families affected, and the victims are in their thoughts and prayers.

Wonderly's college roommates turned him in to SNU officials after catching him with child pornography.