The pastor of a Baptist church in Virginia is in jail on child sex abuse-related charges, the Washington County (Va.) Sheriff’s Office has announced.
Michael Steven Canter, 38, faces charges of taking indecent liberties with a child; two charges of aggravated sexual battery; and one charge of attempted object sexual penetration, the sheriff’s office indicated in a press release.
When he was arrested, Canter was pastor of Valley View Baptist Church in Abingdon, in far west Virginia, the sheriff’s office stated. He has pastored the church since 2015, according to the church’s Facebook page.
The church did not respond to an emailed request to clarify Canter’s status there in the wake of his arrest. The only phone number listed for the church is Canter’s personal cell. He did not respond to a text message.
Deputies arrested Canter after investigating a report of sexual assault, the sheriff’s office indicated.
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A 17-year-old told sheriff’s deputies last month that Canter had groped her multiple times a few days earlier, during an overnight church event he organized, the criminal complaint stated. The reported assault traumatized the girl, who has sought counseling and medication to cope, the complaint added.
The complaint also states a second person corroborated the girl’s account.
A detective told local TV station WJHL that there could be other victims, too. They encouraged anyone with information to come forward.
Canter has been held without bond in the Abingdon Regional Jail since late September 8, according to the sheriff’s office and VINELink inmate records.
It’s unclear whether Canter has an attorney who could speak on his behalf. According to the complaint, Canter admitted groping the girl when deputies interviewed him, but claimed the girl had forced him to do it.
On the day Canter was jailed, Valley View Baptist Church was listed on the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia’s (SBCV) website, a cached version of the page shows. The church is no longer there, but it remains listed on the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) website.
Baptist Press reported that the church has not been active in the state convention or given to the SBC’s Cooperative Program since 2016. The SBC constitution requires churches to donate to the Cooperative Program or other SBC efforts to remain in good standing with the convention.
“SBC of Virginia has no tolerance whatsoever for any form of sexual or physical abuse,” SBCV spokesman Brandon Pickett told Baptist Press. “Our prayers go out to the survivors, the community and the church.”
Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.