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Youth pastor ‘engaged’ to 14-year-old girl with blessing of parents and church leaders accused of sexual abuse

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Photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office

Robert Fenton was a 26-year-old pastor in Stay in the vineyard church in Owego, NY, when he received approval to betroth a 14-year-old congregation member by his family and church leaders.

Fenton convinced the teen’s parents and non-denominational church leaders to allow him to betroth the underage girl, telling them he had a vision “declaring that God intended the victim to be his bride”.

The youth pastor was granted permission to betroth the 14-year-old on the condition that no sexual activity takes place. But according to his now 40-year-old victim, Fenton “frequently” molested the underage girl during her two years at church in the late 90s.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announcement charges against Fenton for assaulting a 14-year-old.

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“I want survivors to know – we believe you. We won’t let predators get away with child molestation,” Shapiro said.

In the affidavit, the victim recalled that Fenton drove to her parents’ home in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, two to three times a week (about a 30-minute drive from the church) to see her. They weren’t allowed to date because of their age difference. It was during these visits that Fenton began to sexually assault her.

Their relationship ended in 1998, two months after the 16-year-old called off the wedding while Fenton was in hospital with an illness. They were to marry in June 1998.

Fenton told his teenage victim that she “ruined his ministry” before moving to Australia.

The victim’s mother, Susan Dewing, told investigators that on more than one occasion she was told by church members that their son was supposed to marry his daughter. So she saw it as “just a little weird” and not “so weird” when the youth pastor suggested something similar about himself.

When Fenton approached his victim’s parents to tell them how he felt about their daughter, they took him to church. Church leadership – which included Fenton’s father, who was an elder in the church – told them it was “more of a courtship than a date”.

Management explained that the courtship would not involve any physical contact between the youth pastor and their daughter, which included holding hands, kissing, touching and never being alone together without the presence. of an adult.

Russell Dewing and his wife were unaware of any sexual activity between Fenton and their daughter until a few years ago.

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The pastor’s son, Paul Hoover, testified that his father Fredrick P. Hoover, who is still a pastor Stay in the vineyard Church Today, was not on board with the Fenton at the time of the court application.