“A man used his position as a Wichita church youth pastor to sexually abuse a teenage girl for three years – and the church and its senior minister are at fault, a new lawsuit says.
The youth pastor raped and sexually abused her “at least two to four times a week from June 2012 to June 2015,” the lawsuit says. In all, it says, he violated her at least 288 times.
The lawsuit contends that the church neglected to supervise the youth pastor, failed to fully investigate concerns about him and tried to cover up the allegations.
The man who was the youth pastor – Chauncey M. Walker, 48 – has remained in jail since August. He was arrested and charged with aggravated indecent liberties with a child and two counts of criminal sodomy. The crimes listed in the charges occurred between around May 22, 2012, and May 23, 2013. The girl was 15 at the time. Walker is being held on a $100,000 bond.
Her attorney, Jonathan McConnell, filed the lawsuit in Sedgwick County District Court on Thursday. It names as defendants Word of Life Ministries and Schools and its senior minister, Robert J. Rotola Sr.
The lawsuit seeks a trial and damages of more than $575,000.
The alleged victim is 20 now. But at the time of the sex crimes, the lawsuit says, she was “too young to consent to such activity, let alone understand the full ramifications of Walker’s misconduct.”
The teen suffered “extreme emotional distress, which forced her to drop out of school and move out of state,” it says. Part of the harm, the lawsuit says, is “Walker taking her virginity.”
Rotola, the senior pastor, and top administrators with the church couldn’t be reached Friday morning for comment.
Walker’s criminal defense lawyer, Quentin Pittman, said Friday: “We deny those allegations” in the charges, and Walker will plead not guilty. Pittman said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit.
Word of Life, which lists several campuses and a main address at 3811 N. Meridian, employed Walker as youth pastor at Ground Zero, where he led activities for young teens, “with no oversight or supervision from his employer,” the lawsuit says. He also served as the girls soccer coach at the Word of Life school.
The alleged victim and her family attended the church, and she went to Life Preparatory Academy, a school run by Word of Life.
Throughout, the church “enabled Walker” to use his position of trust to harm the teen, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges the sexual abuse and harassment occurred at a number of places owned by Word of Life, including Ground Zero, the Ground Zero Party Bus and the parking lot of the church and school.
In May 2012, Walker offered the girl “individualized counseling sessions,” it says. “Believing Walker wanted to help her cope with personal struggles,” she agreed.
The next month, it says, he started making sexual advances.
According to the lawsuit, the counseling occurred at night, away from the church, between only him and her. He picked her up at her home. He “drove around town with (her) in his vehicle” before taking her home.
Word of Life and Rotola, the senior pastor, “failed to properly supervise” Walker as a counselor and failed to “implement any reasonable procedure or protocol,” the lawsuit argues.
Without elaborating, it says: “There have been previous allegations of impropriety and sexual misconduct by Walker prior to his sexual abuse” of the girl.
And at another point the lawsuit petition alleges that “Walker had a history of engaging in improper and harmful relationships with minor children. … Word of Life should have known that Walker was a threat.”
With “unfettered access to Word of Life property, particularly Ground Zero, Walker was able to seclude himself with (her),” it says.
The lawsuit contends that Word of Life and Rotola failed to manage the risk shown by “sexual abuse scandals that emerged from the Catholic Church,” where people entrusted to care for children have used that role to take advantage of children.
Word of Life and its senior minister could have prevented the girl’s sexual abuse by supervising Walker properly, the lawsuit argues.
Timeline of incidents
In December 2013, a church member reported to Rotola having seen Walker holding hands with the teen outside a Dillons store.
“Rotola conferred with another Word of Life employee and opted only to confront Walker with the report of an inappropriate relationship between Walker and a minor,” the lawsuit says.
But neither the church nor Rotola investigated further; they failed to ask the teen about the reported allegations, it says.
Walker wasn’t reprimanded or restricted, it says.
“On multiple occasions from 2012 to 2015, several employees and agents of Word of Life witnessed Walker and (her) alone together on church property, including the Word of Life Party Bus. Rotola and senior administration saw Walker alone with the teen, it says.
“Reasonable procedures” on supervision of Walker would have prevented the abuse, the lawsuit says.
This past July – the month before Walker’s arrest – Rotola and church administrators received an email from an anonymous person revealing Walker’s relationship with the teen, it says.
“Word of Life and Rotola responded … by attempting to cover the allegations up and prevent the truth from being publicly disclosed,” the lawsuit says.”