Several years ago there was an entire UCG congregation in West Virginia which seceded from the mothership after a local elder molested a young lady in the congregation. The local elder had a history of doing this sort of thing. He had repeatedly been admonished by church leaders to stop, but as is so often the case, he didn't because he knew they would never discipline him. Keep in mind, this was back around 2004 - 2005 when all the leaders of COGWA were still running United. Doug Horchak, Jim Franks, Richard Pinelli, Clyde Kilough, etc., were all aware of what had taken place with this elder and how he had molested a young girl.
Nathan Albright, who is not shy about publicly addressing problems in the COGs, sent Richard Pinelli an email about the problems created by the Council's lack of action to resolve the situation:
Dear Mr. Holladay and Mr. Pinelli The attached message concerns a lively thread about the alleged fondling of a young lady in [...] by a local church elder. The situation has led to a lot of discussion, not all of it friendly, and the situation needs to be dealt with, as some people are threatening to call the police on the situation. Some of us know some (or all) of the parties involved in this particular situation, and I hope that the case is dealt with fairly and faithfully (and, at this point, quickly). Nathan Albright
He received the following response from Richard Pinelli, head of ministerial services:
From: "Richard Pinelli" Add to Address Book
To: "Nathan Albright"
Subject: Re: [unitedchurchofgodia] Notifying authorities, or UCG?
Date: Mon, 30 Aug 2004 12:13:23 -0400
I wanted to answer your email but have been in Council meetings.
Thank you for passing along this information. Where people come up with these terrible charges is a mystery. We are not aware of any cases such as is being described by these gossips.
There was a recent case where an elder in his late 70s gave public hugs to a young woman in his congregation whose mother let him know that now that her daughter was older she had become uncomfortable with his hugs. Others in the congregation had no problem with his hugs. Upon hearing that his hugs made her uncomfortable he immediately stopped giving them. A follow-up determined that the hugs were innocent expressions of grandfatherly affection and there was nothing illegal and certainly not sexually improper in that case.
United takes these accusations very seriously and there has been an investigation.
It is our hope that people will not hear a rumor of some sort of impropriety, jump to the worst case conclusion, and spread libelous and untrue embellishments, in a matter about which they really know little or nothing, that could destroy the reputations of innocent and decent people.
This attempt by Pinelli to just shove things under the rug so enraged the family of the victim that her brother-in-law wrote the following response and posted it in a public yahoo group:
I have been an avid reader of this and 3-4 other forums over the last
few months but due to the fact that it is now 2:30am and I cannot
sleep, I have decided to make my first post. I grew up in the
WCG/UCG along with approx 40 extended family members. My experiences
in the Church couldn't have been better. Loving your neighbor,
obeying God, serving your fellow mankind, a deep belief in Jesus
Christ as our Saviour, and seeking first the Kingdom of God were not
just subjects I heard in sermons but were the actions I saw practiced
in the daily life of my extended family members. Last year, at the
age of 24 I decided I wanted to live the way of life I saw work so
well and that held out so much promise for an even better future and
I was baptized. Like several on this forum I also held out a strong
opinion that UCG was guided by wise leaders and that the church was
headed in the right direction. I was disappointed to hear of groups
or individuals leaving and could not understand why they felt the
need to leave the organization. That has all changed in the last
year… Because you see… the girl in WV that has been of much
discussion on this forum is my wife's little sister, and is to
me, the sister I never had.
There are three reasons why I've waited until now to shine some
light on this very troublesome situation. First, the church asked all
family members to not discuss the case until a decision was reached
or else they would drop the appeal. Second, I really believed that
the leaders of our church would take at least some just action to
resolve the issue of an elder and sexual harassment. Third, after
reading Mr. Pinelli's misleading response I felt it necessary to
share some relevant facts in this matter.
It is a fact that an elder in WV has sexually harassed my sister-in-
law. The "hugs" were accurately described in posts by
Lindap, the elder would sneak up from behind, lock his arms directly under the
breasts and then squeeze very tightly and lift for an extended period
of time. There was indeed touching that could be categorized, at the
very least as grossly inappropriate, and more accurately as
molestation. I can absolutely guarantee you that such hugs would be
grounds for severe discipline or reprimands were they to take place
at one of our UCG Youth Camps. This situation involves an ordained
official in UCG, are the standards less? This act of touching
inappropriate body parts is in and of itself defined as sexual
harassment in UCG's own Sexual Misconduct Guidelines (Section N
reads: "No lewd touching or other inappropriate contact of a
sexual nature is permitted with minors").
There will still be some who will defend this elder's actions as
Mr. Pinelli did by describing them as "signs of grandfatherly
affection" or by arguing that the elder meant nothing perverse by them. I
already believe the prior paragraph alone, would require for UCG
leaders to take some kind of action. But to those who are still
skeptical let me provide the following evidence that has led me to
believe his actions reflected his intent.
1. When confronted by my mother-in-law concerning his hugs, the
elder did not apologize or show remorse for his actions. My family
has yet to receive any form of apology. Think about this. If
someone confronted you and told you something you had done was
offensive and crossed the lines, and that was in no way your intent,
what would you do? I'd say "I am so sorry, I never, ever
meant it to be that way." Why hasn't the elder ever apologized to my
sister &mother in-law?
2. Although it is true that the elder stopped the "hugs' with
my sister-in-law after that confrontation, he has continued with the
same type of perverted "hugs" with at least one other girl
who is on record of having found it very offensive. This hits at the core of
the issue. Mr. Pinelli makes it sound like all the problems have
just gone away because the elder no longer hugs my sister-in-law.
Does he not care that this elder continues to practice this very
inappropriate behavior with other young girls in the church????? And
what does this say about the elder? Again I ask the question if you
were told something you were doing was crossing the lines and you
didn't have that intent, would you not stop that behavior
3. On several occasions the elder made perverse and suggestive
verbal statements to my sister-in-law. What I am sure would be
defended as "grandfatherly" jesting, clearly shows how he viewed
my sister-in-law, a minor. This is just flat out wrong and did as much
damage as the touching. I have seen campers kicked out of camp for
making similar comments to females. Again, are our standards less
for an ordained elder?
4. Mr. Pinelli says that "other girls in the congregation did
not have a problem with the hugs." That statement could not be
further from the truth. A deacon in that congregation had confronted
the elder 4-5 years ago demanding that he immediately
desist "hugging" his two teenage daughters. Other women from
that congregation have gone on record that the elder had practiced the
same behavior on them and that it was offensive. This was all
documented and was presented to Mr. Pinelli in the original appeal.
In fact, I doubt that there is any female still in the Princeton
congregation (see pt 5), who would go on record as saying it was not
5. Some on this forum have demanded "firsthand evidence."
Look no further than the Princeton congregation itself. After my mother-
in-law was suspended, 2/3rds of the Princeton congregation quit.
These people had seen for years that what this elder was doing was
inappropriate, and when they saw the church try to cover it up, they
were so disillusioned as to quit UCG over it. Incidentally, the
minister & elders family make up half the approx 10 or so people
It is likely that many of you will want to hear the other side of the
story, and I think that not only prudent, but fair. The only thing I
caution you on is, do not let anyone pull the classic defense lawyer
maneuver of putting the plaintiff on trial. My mother-in-law is not
a perfect person, no one is, and she quite possibly did not even
handle this situation as perfectly as she would if she had to do it
over again. But she is not the one who sexually harassed anyone, and
she in no way deserved to be suspended indefinitely for refusing to
meet the elder & minister alone.
In closing some of you are probably wondering what the family will do
next since the church is obviously not going to do anything. Quite
frankly, we all just want this to be over and get on with life,
especially my sister-in-law. We are thankful that there is a just
God in heaven who will indeed judge righteously. Our biggest
challenge going forward will be to eventually forgive those who
wronged my sister & mother-in-law and those who stood by and did
nothing. But we must and we will.
I have heard so many times in sermons that we must love each as
brothers and sisters in Christ. Academically I thought I always
understood that concept, yet as I saw people in church over the years
have considerable hurt I always shrugged my shoulders, sighed, and
looked the other way. But when it's your own sister, it really
is different. When you see someone you love deeply ravaged by emotional
distress. Someone who starts blaming themselves with "it was my
fault because I didn't say anything the first time he hugged me
that way" and "I'm so sorry Mom, it's my fault that you
are no longer part of the church", it most certainly excites more emotion than a
shrug. When you see a vibrant teenage girl so weighted down with a situation
that they fall ill and lay in bed for a summer that is suppose to be
the best years of their life it evokes more than a sigh. And when
you wonder how someone you care so much about can endure such things
and not have a devastating impact on their spiritual life, it has
finally turned my head and I will be Silent No More.
Thank you to the brothers and sisters on this forum who have kept my
family in your thoughts and prayers. We will not forget it.
And so there you have it, Richard Pinelli doing God's work by trying to brush a sexual assault under the rug. Somewhere I have copies of the emails he sent to the family of the victim, where he threatened them with disfellowshipment if they ever went to the police. After the brother-in-law wrote the above message and publicly posted it, Pinelli crafted an apology that was not an apology (you know, the kind that says "I'm so sorry YOUR feelings were hurt", which is not a real apology where he could have taken responsibility for his actions) and emailed that to the victim....and still never offered to discipline the elder.