Church responds to recent article regarding criminal sexual conduct charges

Eric Peltz
Word of Life Ministries

My name is Eric Peltz and I am currently the Assistant Pastor and Music Director at Word Of Life Ministries in Princeton, Minn. In addition to this, I also serve as the Youth Director at Fusion Youth Group in Cambridge.

On March 13, 2013, an article was published in the Isanti County News titled, “Man charged with criminal sexual conduct after meeting minor at church youth group.” The article was written concerning a sexual encounter between 21-year-old Richard Joseph Flannery, and a female victim between the ages of 13-15 who is connected with our group.

As the director of Fusion Youth Group, I see it as my personal responsibility to address this issue publicly.

First of all, Flannery was not a member, or even an attendee of our youth group. Flannery visited our youth group on a maximum of three separate occasions over the course of approximately 18 months—the most recent of which was July of 2012 (it is important to note that the sexual encounter occurred in January 2013).

Secondly, because our ministry is directed primarily at reaching high school and college age individuals of both genders, we understand that measures must be taken to ensure appropriate interactions between males and females in our group.

We have several policies to help foster a safe, appropriate environment for all of our group attendees.

One of these policies applies specifically to this situation and is as follows:

There is absolutely no sharing of phone numbers or contact information between males and females at any and all Fusion youth group events.

We take special care to ensure that all of our policies are enforced by leadership during our group events. Any exchange of information by Flannery and the victim during a Fusion event would have been against our policy and as such, would have been carried out without consent or knowledge of myself or any other leaders in our group.  This is why the exchange of contact information between Flannery and the victim was carried out as they were exiting the building after one of our events had concluded. If anyone in our leadership would have witnessed this exchange, it would have been addressed and shut down immediately as it is a violation of our policies.

Third, the female victim in this case approached my wife and myself in February 2013 and confessed to us the nature of her relationship with Flannery and asked us for help with the situation.

She stated she knew the contact between Flannery and herself was inappropriate, and that she wanted to confess to her parents, but was unsure of how to do so. We immediately contacted the victim’s parents and set up a meeting in which the victim would confess the entire situation to them.

Upon her confession in that meeting, I personally informed her parents that as a youth pastor and a mandated reporter, I am required to contact law enforcement in the event that I become aware of any illegal activities.

The victim’s father stated that he believed it was first and foremost his responsibility to contact law enforcement, and that he would do so. I yielded this responsibility to him out of respect for his position as a father, with the caveat that, in the event that he failed to contact law enforcement in a timely manner, I would do so on the victim’s behalf.

He followed through with what he said he would do, and as such, further action was not required on my part thereafter.

I understand that this is a very difficult situation for all those involved, and my heart goes out to those who have been affected.  That being said, I fully stand behind Fusion Youth group and my own actions as its leader, as well as the actions of the victim’s family in bringing the nature of this situation to the attention of law enforcement. It is important to note that my wife and myself, as well as the victim’s family hold absolutely no ill will or negative feelings toward any of the individuals involved in this case, including Flannery and his family. More often than not, doing the right thing means taking the difficult path. This seems to be especially true in this particular case. The actions taken by myself and the family of the victim in bringing this incident to the attention of law enforcement were only carried out because of our own Biblical duty to adhere to what is morally and legally right—nothing more.

The final paragraph of the March 13 news article read as follows:

“According to its website, ‘Fusion is a high school/college age group focusing on what it means to have and live out a real relationship with Christ. We’re not just sayers of the Word, but we are doers—going out into the community and practicing what we preach.’”

I absolutely continue to stand by this, the mission statement of our group. The truth is, sometimes “going out into the community and practicing what we preach” isn’t as pretty as it sounds on paper. Sometimes it means doing something very difficult simply because it is the right thing to do. Confessing to an adult, especially to your own parents, your own personal involvement in an inappropriate relationship is a very difficult thing to do—and yet the victim did it because it was the right thing to do. Bringing this entire situation to the attention of law enforcement, knowing full well that doing so would involve legal action as well as public scrutiny, was also a very difficult thing to do—but it was done because, legally and morally, it was 100 percent the right thing to do, and that is what matters most.

This is the message that we will continue to preach and to teach to the young people of this community.  It is the message that a real relationship with Jesus Christ is not simply mental assent to a moral ideology, but ultimately, it is a life changing commitment to a relationship with a real, living, active, holy God. It brings with it the joy of love, peace, forgiveness and hope, but it also brings a call to repentance, truth, justice, holiness and action. My hope is that the writing of this response to the March 13 article will help to clear up any confusion or misunderstanding concerning this situation.