A camp director and pastor with ties to a megachurch in western New York has been accused of inappropriately touching more than 20 women when they were teenage girls.
The accused, Wayne Aarum, is the director of Circle C Ranch camp in Delevan, New York. Aarum also served as a youth pastor at The Chapel at Crosspoint, one of the largest churches in the Buffalo, New York area, from 1990 to 2000.
Aarum currently pastors the First Baptist Church of Arcade.
The accusations came from attendees of both the camp and the youth group. An additional 27 witnesses reportedly confirmed the accusations.
Aarum refuses to step down and says he is innocent.
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According to Ministry Safe lead investigator, Attorney Kimberlee Norris, the known incidents occurred between the 1990s and 2015. The church said it first received reports of troubling behavior in October 2019.
The accusers said Aarum had stroked their legs, touched the private areas of clothed girls, walked into cabins while girls were changing clothes, and said he loved them. He also reportedly met with girls extremely late at night without supervision, vilified girls who didn’t accept his overtures, and talked to girls in, or on, their beds.
The letter added that former camp staff members alleged that Aarum would target girls who were “pretty, slim, emotionally fragile or those who had ‘father issues.’” He so consistently met with these girls that staff called them “Wayne’s girls,” the letter said.
“Girls, now women, who participated in the investigation said that the behaviors became so normalized that they assumed others, including parents and ministry leaders, knew and approved,” Norris wrote.
The Chapel told local news outlet WKBW that it communicated these accusations to Aarum. But in a video interview, Aarum denied ever hearing the accusations.
“What am I accused of?” he said. “Please tell me, I would love to know.”
When he received specific accusations from the news channel, he denied them all.
“No. I have zero recollection of that. I can honestly say no,” he said. “Never. That never happened. I would gladly face anyone who says that happened.”
WKBW Interviews Wayne Aarum:
Chelsea Carnaham, 28, said to Buffalo News that Aarum stroked her hair and back, held her hand, and touched her legs during one-on-one counselling sessions.
She also said Aarum would grab her from behind and pull his pelvis close to her body. His actions gave Carnahan “religious trauma,” she said.
Several women who accused Aarum also told their story on Facebook.
Former attendee Sara Bryk said on Facebook that Aarum made her feel uncomfortable by putting his hand on her back and giving her uncomfortably long hugs without letting go.
“He began talking to me and placed his hand on my lower back,” Bryk said. “He held his hand there and I tried walking forward in order to move away so his hand could not stay there. He proceeded to walk forward with me and keep his hand on my lower back.”
Beth Sweeney said on Facebook that Aarum walked into her cabin unannounced while she was shirtless and continued to watch her until she put on a shirt.
“Any man that I respect would have knocked, or at least apologized or shut the door realizing I wasn’t clothed. Wayne however stood there, stared and then entered as if seeing a young girl in a bra is nothing to worry about.”
Former Chapel youth group member Josh Maciuba spoke out in support of the women on Facebook.
“What you should be getting out of this, is that back in 2010.. a large faction of Wayne’s OWN YOUTH GROUP, thought he had inappropriate interactions with young girls,” he said.
After the accusations came out, The Chapel cut ties with Circle C Ranch and ended its financial support.
Circle C Ranch, however, has not removed Aarum from leadership and board members are supporting him.
Aarum is the son of Wes Aarum, the camp’s founder. Aarum also serves on the camp’s board of directors with his brother, Wes Aarum Jr.
“He totally denies any wrongdoing whatsoever,” said Daryl Dekalb, a Circle C board member. “Wayne has ministered to thousands and thousands of kids over the years, and we never heard anything from anybody.”
The camp’s parent company, Living Waters Ministries, said it investigated the accusations against Aarum in the youth group and found that he was innocent.
The group also claims that the Norris investigation was unfair. The claims of the women about Aarum’s actions were likely misinterpreted or exaggerated, according to a report of the Living Waters’ investigation.
“This is not a criticism of the women who, upon being urged by Mr. Camardo or his contractor, expressed their feelings of discomfort and of painful memories,” the report stated. “Among any large group of women in their mid- to late thirties who belonged to a church in their youth, there likely would be some who, as young women, experienced trauma attributed to sexual harassment or abuse, and some who would be able to report truthfully that in their youth a hug or other personal touch contact from an adult male well known to them, in a social setting with others present, made them uncomfortable or was unwelcome.”
Instead, the report said the accusations were part of an attempt by The Chapel’s pastor, John Camardo, to take over the camp’s land after the death of Aarum’s father.
“A number of people sophisticated in corporate matters, upon hearing about Mr. Camardo’s campaign against Wayne, immediately pointed out that it was ‘a play for the property,’” the report claimed.
Camardo told his congregation the accusation is untrue and The Chapel has no intention of trying to obtain Circle C Ranch, according to Buffalo News.
“They’re trying to destroy my family,” Aarum said in a sermon. “They’re trying to destroy the Kingdom. People say, ‘Why are they doing it?’ I don’t know, ask them.”
A former camp employee, speaking under anonymity, told local news station WKBW that when she worked at the camp as a teenager, she didn’t recognize Aarum’s actions as inappropriate. But when she remembered them as an adult, she said they were “grooming” and “intimate.”
“If they’re thinking of sending their children there this summer, I want people to know,” she said.
The Roys Report reached out to Circle C Ranch, but a representative said Aarum was unable to be interviewed because he had COVID-19.
Correction: This article originally referred to The Chapel’s pastor as James Camardo. His name is John Camardo. The copy has been corrected. Also, the sentence originally “The church first received reports of troubling behavior in October 2019″ has been changed to “The church said it first received reports of troubling behavior in October 2019.”
Jackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.