After nearly two years and numerous allegations of cover-up, a ruling body in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is advancing the case of an Indiana pastor accused of sexual harassment and abuse to trial.
On Friday, the Central Indiana Presbytery (CIP) announced in a statement that it had approved a report, recommending that the presbytery bring charges against Dan Herron, the founding pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church near Indiana University.
The CIP now will draft official charges, conduct a trial, and “if appropriate, determine disciplinary actions,” the statement said.
It added that the CIP is also suspending all of Herron’s official functions for the duration of the trial. This is a major victory for victims and their advocates who have objected that Herron has used his vote as an elder to influence prior outcomes of his case.
Kara Million, one of at least 10 alleged victims, said she’s worked what amounts to a full-time, unpaid job for the past couple years to bring Herron to justice and is heartened by the result.
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“It didn’t really quite sink in the first time I found out about it,” said Million. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
Million was one of five people who initially sent a letter to the CIP in 2019, demanding an investigation of Herron. That investigation eventually concluded that the charges against Herron had “no strong presumption of guilt.”
However, numerous people complained that the investigation had been biased. And a higher church court later found that the initial investigation had erred and should have found a strong presumption of guilt.
Million said she is cautiously optimistic about Herron’s trial, but noted this is the third time CIP leaders had announced that Herron was going to trial.
The first two times were because of complaints by CIP Elder Steve Marusich.
“I’m optimistic, but given that this is the third time I’ve heard that, I’m unsure,” she said.
In response to an earlier article about Herron’s case, Boz Tchividjian, an attorney and founder of Godly Response to Abuse in a Christian Environment (G.R.A.C.E.), tweeted: “Presbyteries are wholly unqualified to investigate allegations of clergy sexual abuse. While we’re at it, the Book of Church Order should never be the guide to investigating abuse.”
Presbyteries are wholly unqualified to investigate allegations of clergy sexual abuse. While we’re at it, the Book of Church Order should never be the guide to investigating abuse in the church. https://t.co/5KunlCmeIe
— Boz Tchividjian (@BozT) May 13, 2021
Marusich noted that the Presbyterian Church Book of Order demands that a minister must be tried in his own presbytery. The only exception is if two other presbyteries ask the General Assembly to judge a case that the first presbytery refuses to resolve.
Marusich said that it will be difficult to find elders in the CIP who don’t have some acquaintance with Herron.
“The hope is that everyone will be true to their vows in the sense that they will come in seeking truth and justice for all sides,” he added.
Herron’s new trial will use evidence gathered in the previous investigations along with anything new that Herron or his prosecutor wish to submit, said CIP administrative pastor Ben Reed.
To prevent conflicts of interest, the prosecutor, the accused, and court members can raise objections to some elders judging the case, Reed added. The court will then vote on these objections.
Marusich said that although he does not know when the trial will happen, he suspects that it will proceed through this summer.
Jackson Elliott contributed to this report.