Vienna Presbyterian Church Finally Goes Public About Sex Abuse

The search for truth implies a duty. One must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true. –Albert Einstein



The sex abuse scandal at Vienna Presbyterian was essentially swept under the rug for a time, and this proved to be extremely detrimental to the congregation. As explained in The Washington Post article “Vienna Presbyterian Church seeks forgiveness, redemption in the wake of abuse scandal”, LINK .


Jordan-Haas, VPC’s newly hired Associate Pastor, saw the VPC congregation through a fresh set of eyes.

As the article states:


“…he (Jordan-Haas) began asking questions and noticed the issue tearing at the fabric of the church. He found that the issue had not been explored, that there appeared to be the potential for numerous victims, and he encountered families and young women who were still hurting or just beginning to deal with their pain.”


Sadly, the above statement could be said of many churches throughout Christendom which choose to ignore victims of sexual abuse at the hands of church staff or worse — blame the victims.

As the article explains, VPC chose to do a number of things to right the wrongs that had been done to Eric DeVries’ victims.

First, they acknowledged their culpability. Paige Fishel, a family therapist who is providing counseling at VPC, explained that the church probably harmed some of its most vulnerable congregants. However, she explained that the church is now listening to the victims, investigating, and apologizing. In the article Fishel explained that the church“was finally willing to take ownership for what happened on their watch, to consider themselves part of the collective offender along with Eric, and they began to work to identify who had been hurt, what their needs were and how to meet those needs.”

The second thing the church did was to establish NewSpring Ministry to reach out and assist abuse victims in their recovery. This outreach was established two years ago. Fishel assists victims through this ministry.

The third action Vienna Presbyterian Church took was to contact The Washington Post. As details of the abuse began to emerge, some concerned elders agreed to cooperate with the Post’s investigation (which lasted two months!).


And fourthly, the Rev. Dr. Peter James openly addressed the church’s cover-up of the scandal in a sermon he called “Religious Hypocrisy” which he delivered the Sunday before the front-page article came out. You can read the transcript of James’ sermon here.

These are some of the highlights of Dr. James’ sermon:

  • “Churches who refuse to tell the truth about sexual abuse are a horrible witness to Christ in the world.”
  • “We must tell the truth about sexual abuse in our church.”
  • “The last six years have given me new appreciation for why the Bible holds love and justice together in creative tension.”


As you can probably imagine, this tragic story is making its way around the blogosphere, and others are chiming in about what happened at Vienna Presbyterian Church and the lessons to be learned. There are varying opinions on what occurred, but I liked what Pastor Geoff had to say on his website: Link.

“On Tuesday I wrote a post about the Washington Post article about the abuse that occurred at the Vienna Presbyterian Church. The story was in many ways about results of this scandal in the lives of the young woman who were victims and how the Church let them down. It was also about how Vienna Presbyterian is seeking to build a community of reconciliation around this failure of Christian Community. I continue to pray that those involved in this situation will all find healing, personally and institutionally. I also continue to admonish everyone to apply the lessons that Vienna has learned in our own lives. It is easy to become a voyeur in a situation like this and say “Thank God it wasn’t me or my church on the front page of the Post.” In a real and spiritual way, we were on the front page right alongside our brothers and sisters in Vienna. The church is bound together by Christ…”

I agree with Pastor Geoff, and I pray that ALL Christians – a leaders and congregants alike – will refuse to turn a blind eye to abuse within the body of Christ, particularly sexual abuse. We all most remember that God is watching and that we will someday give an account. Silence is NOT the answer!


Lydia's Corner: Joshua 7:16-9:2 Luke 16:1-18 Psalm 82:1-8  Proverbs 13:2-3


Vienna Presbyterian Church Finally Goes Public About Sex Abuse — 3 Comments

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    Dee and Deb,

    Thank you for posting this news article. I am encouraged by what looks like a good response from the current church pastor, and by your statement “Silence is NOT the answer!”

    I watched the 20/20 news program that someone referenced in the April 9 comments. I have also been reading Cindy Kunsman’s analysis on her blog, UnderMuchGrace, of how/why the Schatz were able to beat their child to death. She also highlights the importance of people thinking for themselves and having the courage to stand up against abusive practices. When one person takes a stand others are emboldened to take a stand too. Kudos to you two for taking a stand on this blog!

    All these influences have emboldened me to break the “don’t talk” rule too. I am an ex-New Tribes Mission missionary. We left the mission a year ago because of spiritually abusive leadership practices. About that time NTM was also under investigation by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments) for abuse of MKs that occurred in a dorm in Senegal. This investigation happened because the adult MKs were relentless in their insistence that NTM do something about it. The full report can be read online. Go to and click on the GRACE report.

    Since then, more reports of abuse have come forward from NTM MKs who lived in other countries around the world. NTM has agreed to investigation of those schools as well, however they have declined GRACE’s offer to do those investigations. They have hired an investigator of their own choosing. Many people who comment on the fandaeagles blog have expressed concerns over the fact that they are not continuing to use GRACE and they have not communicated their reasons. I am concerned as well. In general, it seems like they are trying to deal with this without really going public with it. I long for them to follow the lead of this Vienna church pastor and admit their own responsibility in a public way. Instead of “looking bad” in front of the world, I believe that admitting ownership of their culpability would go a long way towards helping the secular world consider the possibility that the God/Christ thing is the real deal.

    Again ladies, thank you for the good work that you are doing here. I hope that many people will be emboldened to speak up in whatever issues they are facing in their churches or mission groups because of your example.

    Addendum: I just found out that GRACE will be doing an investigation of the ABWE mission group. Let’s hope for another good ending in their story!

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    I have heard rumblings about this situation. We would be most interested in posting your personal experience and your reasons for leaving NTM. Also, I will look into the story and post something in the near future about this situation. It breaks my heart. You have done so much, given up so much, to serve God as a missionary and then you were abused on top of it. How could such a thing happen?!

    I read an article a few months back in Christianity Today about a man who was abused in a school for missionary kids. It made me sick. His parents, like you, sacrificed so much and then their son was abused.

    The church must own up to this abusive stuff, shedding light on it and roundly condemning and prosecuting those who take advantage of these situations. We have received several emails regarding other abusive ministries and we will shed light on them as well.

    Please contact us via our emails under the “contact” page if you would like to post your story or insights-whatever you wish. You may remain anonymous as well.

    I am praying for you!

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    I am writing today because the Post article reports statements made by VPC leadership attempting to present their behavior in the best light. Those who reference the Post article understandably re-play the benign nature of their actions. I would like to add a bit of reality to statements made in the Post article and therefore, in this series of comments presented here as well.

    Tragically, I have dealt with much of the abuse at VPC at a close distance. Volunteers and new staff members are indeed taking steps to redeem the sins of the past. These steps, however, are not a result of a sudden spiritual awakening on the part of VPC senior pastor, Peter James.

    The New Spring ministry was established in 2009 as a DIRECT RESULT of a mediation (restorative circle) conducted by an independent conflict resolution professional brought in by some of the offended families. New Spring is magical – it has been key to the restoration that has taken place and the volunteers and staff working so diligently are amazingly wonderful. However, VPC leadership did not wake up one morning saying, “gee, we made a mess of this and had better do something about it.” They resisted any such efforts. Professional conflict resolution was a last ditch effort by the abused to force VPC leadership to behave responsibly – the intent was to promote healing instead of miring all parties in litigation.

    A private donor stepped forward to fund the counseling needs of the abused girls. By the Fall of 2010, these funds were nearing zero balance. In a sign of their commitment to the care of the abused, VPC leadership failed to propose any (as in zero) budget to continue the care for the girls. Aware of this ugly act, one brave young woman stepped forward and told her story to the session (member-led governing body) of VPC. Outraged, session took over the response for this debacle from those “professionals” who had failed to respond for years. Ironically, the desire of the VPC leadership to “hit the reset button” (their quote) on their responsibility to care for the wounded led to the current awareness. God does indeed redeem sin.