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Pastor Becomes First Person Criminally Charged in San Diego for Allegedly Failing to Report Suspected Child Sex Abuse

By Liz Lykins
merino
Eric Manuel Merino preaches at Victory Outreach Church in San Ysidro, California. (Video screengrab)

For the first time ever, San Diego prosecutors have brought criminal charges against someone suspected of failing to report sexual abuse of a minor, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The man charged is Eric Manuel Merino, a pastor at Victory Outreach Church in San Ysidro, California, according to a statement from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office

Merino was arraigned in court last Thursday on a misdemeanor count of not complying with the state’s mandated reporter law, the District Attorney’s Office added. If convicted, Merino faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The 43-year-old pastor has pleaded not guilty to the charges, the Union-Tribune reported.

In California, the mandated reporter law requires professionals deemed “mandatory reporters” to report any suspected cases of child sexual abuse. Clergy members, along with teachers, doctors, social workers, police officers, and other professionals who work with children, fall into this category.

If they fail to do so, they can receive criminal penalties, including fines and incarceration, according to the District Attorney’s Office. “The law is designed to ensure prompt intervention to protect children from harm,” the office said.

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eric manuel merino
Eric Manuel Merino preaches at Victory Outreach Church in San Ysidro, California. (Video screengrab)

The Roys Report reached out to Merino’s church for comment but did not hear back prior to publication.

Merino’s attorney Brian Carter told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the pastor is “troubled” by the accusations against him. Carter added that Merino fully cooperated with authorities while they investigated the incident of sexual abuse.

Carter explained that Merino is “confident that he wholly adhered to all mandatory reporting obligations as provided by law regarding members of the clergy.”

Carter continued, “These clergy members are tasked with the vital role of maintaining trust and confidence while counseling churchgoers in a pastoral capacity on sensitive religious matters that are not always black and white.”

15-Year-Old Girl Assaulted by Church Choir Leader

Merino’s charges are connected to an incident in which a church choir leader assaulted a 15-year-old girl in 2021, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Choir leader, Rafael Valentin Magana, was initially arrested last summer for the assault, according to the San Diego Police Department.

Police said Magana drove the teen girl, who was a member of the choir, to a location in Paradise Hills, California, in November 2021. He then sexually assaulted her in the car.

Due to “a confluence of factors,” the girl did not report the assault to authorities until March 2023, police said. Police then began their investigation and arrested the choir leader a few months later.

This April, Magana was convicted of a lewd act on a child 14 or 15 years old, the District Attorney’s Office said. Magana will be sentenced later this month. He faces up to three years in prison and will be required to register as a sex offender, the District Attorney’s Office added. 

victory outreach church merino
Victory Outreach Church in San Ysidro, California. (Video screengrab)

The District Attorney’s Office did not clarify who informed Pastor Merino of the sexual assault or how. But the office said that after the pastor was made aware about the crime, the information triggered “his legal duty to notify law enforcement or child welfare services.”

District Attorney Summer Stephan said it’s “critical” that incidents of abuse “don’t fall through the cracks,” and that those with the duty to report come forward. 

“Following the law of mandated reporting can potentially protect another child from being sexually abused by the perpetrator,” Stephan said.  “Youth in San Diego County deserve to have a safe and healthy environment, free of sexual or physical abuse — whether at school or at church.”

Under California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, there are a few exceptions for clergy mandatory reporters. For instance, if clergy received information on abuse through “penitential communication,” such as sacramental confession, they are not required to report it.

However, generally, if a mandatory reporter suspects child abuse, they must share their suspicions immediately with law enforcement or child protective services, according to the District Attorney’s Office. They are also obligated to submit a written report of it within 36 hours. 

Freelance journalist Liz Lykins writes for WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today, Ministry Watch, and other publications.

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9 Responses

  1. I know for fact this type of stuff has happened in Victory Outreach before. So many people are hesitant to speak up about anything because we are taught to obey and protect church leaders and the ministry. There is so much more that goes on such as spiritual abuse, money hungry tactics, manipulation, and lack of accountability. Please do more work on Victory Outreach. 🙏🏽

  2. Yet in CA and many states you can transition a child without parents knowledge or consent🤔🤔

    1. Help me out here. I’m not picking up the more subtle point you’re making. Apparently I’m missing some context. The article (as I understand it) calls out the unpleasant reality that secular law enforcement is necessary because the church is unable, or perhaps unwilling, to advocate for the safety of children.

    2. That is not true, Don. California law does not allow minors (under the age of 18) to obtain puberty blockers, hormones, or surgery without parental consent. What they have done is allow families (parents with their children) to travel there to obtain the medical services they desire which have been made illegal in other states, without fear of being prosecuted by their former state of residence.

    3. You are comparing apples and oranges Don. Personally I am against the abuse of children in any form. And regardless of who is abusing them.

  3. It truly sickens me how many churches yap about victory, or have the word in the name of their church etc. When I was floundering around in their fantasy world of make believe, mind games & charades. I used to ask why they sang a hymn called ‘Victory in Jesus’ when they all unashamedly claimed to be sinners. They would sing the song with great gusto with arms in the air & faces displaying great passion, etc. Robert Jeffress boasted about leading a class called something about victory, yet he told us in an interview with Fox News author, Harris Faulkner, that he asked God to forgive him for all his sins every night before he went to sleep. I gave him a hard time on Twitter until he stopped posting his nonsense there. Today’s gospel is a sick joke that has taken millions to hell. Until church leaders agree with John Wesley, & deal with the sin issue in themselves & teach the truth about repentance, this will continue. Here is a statement he made:

    “Christians should not be content with any religion that does not imply the destruction of all the works of the devil; that is of ALL SIN”

    PLEASE read REPENTANCE on Substack or on Facebook’s Life Abundant

  4. I was sexually harassed at Victory Outreach San Ysidro Church for being single, disabled & a openly LGBT Chicana Drag Queen Cholita I’m hurt how disgusting men are these days shame!

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