"Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable horror." C.S.Lewis
4/9/11 correction: I had planned to provide full credit for the information included in this post to Josh White, reporter extraordinaire of The Washington Post. He has done a superb job in reporting this story! Here is the link to his article.
Our intent and practice here at TWW is to ALWAYS give credit where credit is due. I realize now that I should have cited The Washington Post at the beginning of the series, instead of at the conclusion (which will be featured on Monday, 4/11/11). I sincerely apologize for my failure to cite the article at the beginning of the series on Vienna Presbyterian Church.
Vienna Presbyterian Church (VPC), located in close proximity to Washington, D.C., has undergone severe testing in recent years when it was rocked by a sex scandal. In hindsight, it is somewhat ironic that Eric DeVries was hired by VPC in September 2001, the very month that shook our great nation to the core. During his four year stint at VPC, DeVries caused tremendous damage to the congregation and especially to his victims.
Perhaps you are wondering how DeVries got caught after getting away with his shenanigans for so long. Here’s what happened. He slowly manipulated his way into the hearts of one family in the church. They trusted him so much that they gave him a key to their house. A teenage daughter in the family believed that she and DeVries would someday marry. This daughter had a sister who was 15 at the time. The sister grew so suspicious that she became a spy! She became obsessed with figuring out DeVries and his charade. She followed him around and even told him that she knew what was going on. The tipping point occurred in September 2005 when she found explicit sexual images on her sister’s cell phone sent by DeVries. This brave teenager reported the inappropriate relationship between DeVries and her sister to the church.
VPC’s senior pastor, Peter James, was stunned to discover that a youth director at the church could be guilty of inappropriate behavior. Although James believed he was doing the right thing at the time (aka Matthew 18) his strategy was flawed. He arranged a meeting between himself, DeVries, and the 15-year-old girl! She cried through most of the meeting as she shared the incriminating evidence she had discovered. In response, DeVries admitted to acting inappropriately but confessed to just kissing this girl’s sister. During a subsequent meeting with the victim, DeVries, and her family, the victim confirmed that what DeVries had confessed to was indeed the extent of the relationship between them. However, her sister knew that the relationship had become far more physical than was being portrayed.
Pastor James recently admitted that he didn’t know what was truly going on in 2005. He realized that boundaries had been crossed; however, he did not conduct a thorough investigation back then to see whether there were other victims.
Upon discovering DeVries’ inappropriate behavior, the Session (VPC’s democratic leadership body) forced the resignation of DeVries and a week later reported the case to Fairfax County Child Protective Services. Unfortunately, church officials let the matter drop, and the senior pastor chose to protect the victims by “honoring their anonymity”.
After DeVries was fired from VPC, he relocated to his hometown in Illinois with the help of not only close friends but church elders. He would await the actions of the criminal justice system there.
Initially, court records indicated that DeVries was charged with taking indecent liberties with a minor – proposing sexual contact with a minor under his supervision – a felony that requires registry as a sex offender. Then in February 2006 (five months after being caught by a 15 year old), DeVries agreed to plead guilty to a lesser offense – contributing to the delinquency of a minor – for which he received a ONE-YEAR SUSPENDED JAIL SENTENCE!
Family members of the victim wrote letters to the judge explaining how they had treated DeVries like a member of their own family and that they “loved and trusted him completely”. They finally realized that there was a very dark side to Eric DeVries and that they were unaware of the many signs that there was a sexual predator among them.
The detective who investigated the case in 2005 suspected that there were more victims; however, when victims are psychologically tied to a sex offender and willingly involved, it is difficult to find them (probably because they are embarrassed to come forward).
After being caught, DeVries explained that he was seeking a family and intimacy and that he unwisely allowed his feelings to escalate out of control. We want to point out that he was in his early 30s while he was at VPC. He further admitted that what he did was hurtful and immoral and that this was the low point of his life. He described it as a life-changing event.
THE CONGREGATION’S RESPONSE
As we understand it, when DeVries pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor, there was one identified victim who was under age and one who was eighteen. Unfortunately, the Fairfax police detective was right about there being more victims; however, they did not come forward at the time DeVries was charged, and no one from the church sought them out.
Tragically, it appeared to the victims that the congregation supported DeVries. Why? He was given the opportunity to apologize to the youth group (which likely still included the unidentified victims), and he was allowed to give an emotional good-bye to them, reassuring them that although he was leaving he would see them in heaven. Some of the church members even conducted prayer circles for him, and the church held fundraising luncheons for him.
In an effort to support DeVries during the legal process, one staff member requested congregants to write letters praising DeVries’ godly character. These letters were to be handed over to the judge for consideration. More than 25 church members submitted letters.
Today, this church staffer deeply regrets the pain the letters she solicited caused for DeVries’ victims. When he was charged, she realized he had done something wrong, but she believed that an appropriate Christian response should be to support DeVries during his time of need, not realizing that there were unidentified victims suffering with much worse pain. Her previous action now brings her to tears.
Many church members shared this staffer’s sentiments and demonstrated their compassion by supporting him in court, lending him money, and helping him move out of his condominium in Fairfax. Such actions were extremely hurtful to DeVries’ victims, who had not yet come forward to reveal that they, too, had been harmed by their youth leader.
Perhaps the worst part of this sordid tale is that some church members blamed the girls by alleging that they threw themselves at their youth leader and that it would have been extremely difficult for a young man to avoid such temptations. YOUNG MAN? DeVries was over 30 years old!!!
Furthermore, church officials failed the victims by not asking enough questions when DeVries was caught and abruptly fired. Not only that, church leaders ignored one girl who tried to come forward with information, and they made it difficult for others to report what had happened.
BLAME THE VICTIM seemed to be the attitude of a good number of VPC members.
THE HEALING PROCESS
Fortunately for the church, this tragic situation which came to a head three years earlier was about to take a positive turn. In November 2008 David Jordan-Haas was hired as an Associate Pastor at Vienna Presbyterian Church. When Jordan-Haas was told of the problems the church had experienced, he began to ask questions. He soon realized that this serious matter had been swept under the rug in an effort for the church to move forward. Not only that, there was the very real possibility that there were other victims. It appeared to him that there were young women and their families, who were still wounded or just beginning to acknowledge their awful pain.
This new set of eyes was able to recognize the tremendous damage that had been done to the congregation in the aftermath of the DeVries debacle.
In our upcoming post we will reveal a most surprising conclusion that has greatly encouraged us.
Lydia's Corner: Joshua 5:1-7:15 Luke 15:1-32 Psalm 81:1-16 Proverbs 13:1