From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA Settles Texas Civil Case With 14 Plaintiffs

Date Mon, 12 Apr 2004 17:12:10 -0500


April 12, 2004

ELCA Settles Texas Civil Case With 14 Plaintiffs

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The churchwide organization of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) settled a civil
suit brought against the church in Marshall, Texas, by 14
plaintiffs in a case that involved the behavior of a former ELCA
pastor.  The former pastor, Gerald P. Thomas Jr., was found
guilty of criminal sexual assault against children in a trial
last year and was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.
     At the request of the plaintiffs' attorney, the terms of the
settlement were not disclosed by the court, said John R. Brooks,
a spokesman for the ELCA.  The settlement was approved April 12
in a Marshall court by District Judge Bonnie Leggat.  The
churchwide organization reached a tentative settlement with the
plaintiff's attorneys March 27, subject to approval by the court.
The issues were "mediated in good faith, and the settlement was
reached in good faith," Brooks said.
     "The ELCA is thankful to have reached a settlement in a
civil case" that arose from Thomas' conduct, Brooks said in a
written statement. "We continue to pray for all who have been
adversely affected by this disturbing case, and we ask your
prayers for the victims of Thomas and for the congregation that
he once served in Marshall."  Brooks emphasized that Thomas is no
longer an ELCA pastor.
     With the cooperation of its insurance carriers, the ELCA "is
grateful its share of the total settlement payment is being
funded without adversely affecting the mission and ministry of
this church," Brooks said.  "In reaching its settlement, the ELCA
admitted to no wrongdoing by the church."
     In an April 7 statement, attorneys for the plaintiffs and
defendants in the case confirmed that other defendants in the
civil suit had settled with the plaintiffs, subject to court
approval.  The defendants that have settled are Trinity Lutheran
Seminary, the Southeast Michigan Multi-Synodical Candidacy
Committee, and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.
     Remaining defendants include the ELCA Northern Texas-
Northern Louisiana Synod, its former bishop, the Rev. Mark B.
Herbener, and a former assistant to the bishop, Earl H. Eliason.
A civil trial is to begin April 13 in Marshall.
     Because the synod has not settled and it appears their case
will go to trial, Brooks said it would be "entirely
inappropriate" to comment on specific allegations made in the
case.	"We ask that the public keep an open mind about this
matter until all of the evidence has been heard and a verdict
reached," Brooks said.
     Thomas was pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church,
Marshall, from 1999 until his arrest in May 2001. Thomas pleaded
guilty to federal criminal charges of possession of child
pornography and was sentenced to serve five years in a federal
prison.  In state court he was convicted in 2003 of 11 counts of
multiple sex crimes against children.  He will begin serving a
397-year sentence in a state prison once the federal prison term
is completed.
     In March 2002 the plaintiffs filed a civil suit against the
ELCA and other parties.
     "This lawsuit has been deeply troubling to all involved, and
we acknowledge its seriousness," Brooks said. "Prior to Thomas'
arrest, the ELCA was unaware of the former pastor's reprehensible
conduct toward the plaintiffs in the case.  Nevertheless, the
ELCA is deeply sorry that anyone was victimized by Gerald
     Allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with children by
ELCA clergy are "very rare," he said.  Molestation of children is
a crime, and the ELCA cooperates fully with law enforcement
authorities when incidents do occur, Brooks said.  The ELCA urges
its congregations and members to immediately report cases of
suspected child sexual abuse to local authorities, he said.  The
ELCA seeks compliance with all states' laws regarding the
reporting of child abuse.
     Brooks said the ELCA does not tolerate cases of sexual abuse
involving clergy.  He noted the ELCA's clergy standards policy
which states: "Ordained ministers are expected to reject sexual
promiscuity, the manipulation of others for purposes of sexual
gratification, and all attempts at sexual seduction and sexual
harassment, including taking physical or emotional advantage of
     "When ELCA bishops are presented with allegations of
improper conduct by pastors, they investigate these matters
promptly," Brooks said.  "If there is credible evidence to
support the charges, the bishop will immediately seek the
pastor's resignation from the ELCA's clergy roster.  ELCA bishops
do not have authority to reassign clergy, and they do not move
known perpetrators to other ministry locations."
     People who seek to become ordained ministers in the ELCA go
through an extended process of study and evaluation, Brooks said.
To the church's knowledge, no other pastor who completed this
process has ever been accused of the conduct for which Thomas was
convicted in Texas, he said.
     "Still, in a continuing effort to guard against such
tragedies, the ELCA will review its guidelines and procedures for
candidacy for the ordained ministry," Brooks said.
-- -- --
     The full text of Brooks' statement on behalf of the ELCA is at
on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

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