The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
In 2000, Donald Foose, a principal of a Christian school, was convicted of sexually molesting a teenage girl. He was sentenced to two years in prison. USA Today reports:
The court records from Foose’s criminal case, obtained by USA TODAY, detail the sexual abuse that led to his conviction and the loss of his teaching license. Foose’s accuser, who is now an adult, did not respond to interview requests for this story.
In 1999, according to the records, she told Pennsylvania state police that Foose had repeatedly fondled her breasts, often over her clothing and twice underneath them. She said he once told her he wanted to see “what you got,” before groping beneath her shirt. Foose had once rubbed his genitals against hers when they were both fully clothed, she also told the police. When he asked to see her breasts, she refused.
A state trooper documented Foose’s limited response: Whatever his accuser alleged was true, he said. “He advised that he did put his hand under her clothing touching her breast,” the trooper wrote.
Police charged Foose with corruption of minors and indecent assault, both misdemeanors. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in March 2000 to a maximum of two years in county prison and sex offender counseling. He served nine months and was released in December of that year on parole. He has no other known convictions.
Conrad, the head pastor whose father had preached at Oakwood for three decades before him, was initially unaware that Foose had been a longtime minister and a principal about 15 miles away at Harrisburg Christian School. When Conrad learned that he had a fellow preacher in his congregation, he wondered whether God had given Oakwood a gift. So in 2006, he asked Foose to join him in ministry.
Conrad, in an interview, said Foose paused at the suggestion.
“He said, ‘I have something in my past. I can’t pass a background check,’” Conrad recalled.
Foose told him that he had been falsely accused of molesting a teenage girl but decided he would not fight the charges to spare his family the pain of a trial, Conrad said.
In the letter he wrote after leaving Oakwood, Conrad said Foose’s secret had been shared under pastor-member confidentiality, so he did not tell the congregation before it voted to approve Foose’s move to leadership. The two men also had agreed, he said, that Foose would not become involved with Oakwood’s school.
Foose resigned from Oakwood in May 2018. Soon after, the beloved pastor who had left Oakwood months before, Bob Conrad, acknowledged in a five-page letter to his former church that he and other leaders had known Foose could not pass a background check. Foose claimed to have been falsely accused, Conrad wrote, and church leaders took him at his word, failing to prevent him from having access to children even as school employees complained about his overly familiar behavior with the students.
“I pray,” Conrad wrote, “that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me for my lack in leadership and judgment.”
On Foose’s final Sunday at Oakwood, he confessed to his congregation: He had been accused of abuse by a teenage girl, convicted and jailed. He told them he had touched her inappropriately above the waist, according to several people in attendance who added that they were left with the impression it had been a single incident.
After Conrad left the church, Foose became its pastor. Conrad, along with other leaders in the church knew about Foose’s past crime and conviction, but kept silent. Foose said he was innocent, so he must have been, right? As far as Conrad’s plea for forgiveness, I hope the folks at Oakwood Baptist will tell him to fuck off. I also hope the church has, by now, excommunicated every church leader who knew about Foose’s past and did nothing about it. Such cowardly behavior is inexcusable.
Days later, Conrad sent his letter to Oakwood’s board of deacons, unburdening himself with the same words: please forgive me, I need to ask for forgiveness, I pray that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me.
The letter’s contents were explosive. Staff at the school had complained about Foose, a red flag every few weeks during one period, Conrad wrote. Foose hugged the children during class time, especially the little girls, and let them climb on his lap; pushed them on the swings by their bottoms, not the metal chains or their backs; and lifted kids onto his knee so their legs straddled his.
Conrad wrote that he warned Foose to keep his distance but didn’t share the complaints with the board of deacons, thinking he could manage on his own.
He wrote that Foose had pushed two women – a cook, and the school’s director – out of jobs at the school after they complained about his behavior. The director had grown so concerned that she had Foose work in a classroom where she could keep an eye on him, according to Conrad.
Conrad mentioned a third woman who worked at the school as a classroom aide. Her parents complained to the church about Foose’s behavior with their daughter, who has an intellectual disability. Conrad wrote that it was a “common occurrence for (Foose) to hug her in the pastor office while no one else was there” and that Foose once hugged her from behind and rested his head on her shoulder.
Conrad wrote that he had also seen Foose hug her.
In an interview, Conrad said Karlsen and Foose had by that time largely taken over leadership of the church, overruling him on his concerns. He said he argued that the congregation should be told about the parents’ complaint. Instead, he said, at a meeting with Conrad, Foose, Karlsen, and the woman’s father, the situation was explained as a misunderstanding and smoothed over.
Karlsen, in an email, denied that Foose ever hugged the woman. He said he spoke to the parents because Conrad “could not handle confrontation.”
Conrad wrote that by 2017, he had come to recognize that what was happening at Oakwood was wrong. But the other leaders, he said, took Foose’s side. Conrad said he was called a bully, forced to take a sabbatical from preaching and ordered to seek counseling. Matthew 18, the scripture that prescribes how to reconcile with someone who has wronged you, was pushed in his face. But he saw no path to making peace.
So Conrad left, only revealing the truth behind his decision in a letter months later.
“It was hard to write,” Conrad said, after sliding into the booth at a pizza shop near his new church in Harrisburg. “I was hoping that if I said, ‘These are things that I did wrong,’ other people would. But that never happened.”
Still think Donald Foose is an innocent man? I suspect there are still people at Oakwood Baptist who think Foose is just a good man wrongly accused (and convicted) of criminal and inappropriate behavior. These kinds of stories sicken me. Here’s a sex offender hiding in plain sight, but because he looks and acts like a “nice” Christian man who really, really, really loves Jesus, the church ignores not only his criminal past but also current allegations of inappropriate behavior.
The same month that Higgins closed his investigation, Foose preached in front of the congregation at Carlisle Baptist Church, not 20 miles from Oakwood. Megan posted about her concerns on Facebook and heard from a mother at Carlisle who confirmed the congregation was unaware of Foose’s record before he took the pulpit.
The mother, Mary Weigel, said the senior pastor at Carlisle later told her that he had known about Foose’s conviction when he invited him to fill in that Sunday but did not think he posed a danger. Weigel has since left the church.
“I’m angry. I’m so angry,” Weigel said. “That puts my children in a position of trusting someone that could potentially groom them and hurt them. And I would have never guessed. I would have never known.”
Ed Roman, Carlisle Baptist Church’s senior pastor, said he let Foose preach because he believes in redemption. “But we also take seriously our responsibility to protect our children and our families,” he said. “So over the years Carlisle Baptist has been very diligent in implementing safeguards that protect families and children so they can worship safely.”
“I wish I would have handled things better,” Roman added. “I did not fully consider how it would affect other people. I didn’t.”
In September, Foose preached again, in Virginia, according to a video briefly posted on the Facebook page of Fredericksburg International Christian Church. The pastor there said he was unaware of Foose’s record when he invited him to the pulpit.
I love Pastor Roman’s statement that he and his church take the protection of families and children seriously. Yet, the good pastor allowed to Foose to preach for him? Why? Because Roman believes in “redemption.”
Worse yet, both the Oakwood and Carlisle churches are part of the same Southern Baptist Association. Its director, Larry Theisen, knew of Foose’s past sex crime conviction and the allegations of inappropriate behavior. Instead of protecting the members of the Oakwood and Carlisle churches, Theisen took the “neutral” route and remained silent. USA Today reports:
The fact that Foose preached at Carlisle Baptist was all the more stunning to the Benningers because the congregation is a member of the Keystone Baptist Association, a network of central Pennsylvania churches that includes Oakwood. Larry Theisen, then the association’s director of missions, knew that Foose’s secret had torn Oakwood apart because he had served as interim pastor after the last of Oakwood’s leaders resigned.
Theisen retired in December after 24 years in the job. Before leaving, he served on a national committee for SBC association leaders that drafted guidelines for preventing sexual abuse of minors in the church.
In an interview, Theisen said he tried to remain neutral at Oakwood but that it was a challenge because Foose is a friend.
Theisen said he learned of Foose’s conviction about 10 years ago from one of Oakwood’s pastors and did not ask for more details beyond what Foose later told him – that he had inappropriately touched a teen girl above the waist. Theisen said he has never been interested in reading through the court records to fully understand what had occurred.
“Everything that goes into our mind affects our mind. … I don’t like to fill my mind with things that are unnecessary,” Theisen said.
Theisen said it wasn’t his place to question Oakwood’s decision to make Foose pastor, because of the autonomy of Southern Baptist churches. He equated it to a congregation deciding whether to accept as pastor a man who had been divorced.
“I’ve had, oh, just about everything you can name over the 45 years of ministry I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “And so my question would simply be, is this a sin that’s basically a Scarlet Letter that they would never find redemption in?”
Foose and Theisen were “friends,” so Theisen kept his mouth shut. Theisen nauseatingly justifies Foose’s crime when he says, “And so my question would simply be, is this a sin that’s basically a Scarlet Letter that they would never find redemption in?” Sorry, Pastor Theisen, but people who molest children — and do you really think Foose was one and done? — should never, ever be given access to children. And they sure as hell shouldn’t be pastors or guest preachers. Come on, man, most of the atheists I know have better morals and ethics than the justifiers of Foose’s behavior.
Please take the time to read the entire USA Today story. Its description of Foose’s preaching is that of a man with something to hide.
Donald Foose’s church bio page says this about him:
Pastor Donald R. Foose was born in Harrisburg, PA. His hometown is Marysville, Perry County, Pennsylvania. He is the third oldest of eight children. He was greatly influenced by godly grandparents who lived in the house next door and was always seen travelling with and helping his grandfather. Pastor Don was made alive in Christ at the age of eight when God called him by grace and granted him repentance and faith while attending a summer church camp. God has been faithful in preparing and sustaining him for service in his Kingdom and Church since 1958. He was given a strong Christian foundation by his family and church.
By God’s grace, Pastor Don has been used in starting and leading Christian schools as well as serving as pastor in several churches in Ohio and Pennsylvania. His education includes a B. S. in Education from Shippensburg University, a Masters in Christian Education from Pensacola Christian College, and pastoral studies from Harrisburg School of the Bible.
Pastor Don has served in ministry for over 40 years. God has been gracious in counting him faithful to proclaim His marvelous grace. His passion is to preach and teach the word of God so that the church will grow in love, knowledge, and service of God, while at the same time grow in love for others. Pastor Don’s goal is to glorify God in all things at Oakwood Baptist Church. He shares preaching time with the other pastors/elders of Oakwood. He also teaches small group Bible studies in the homes of church members. Pastor Don is also active in training pastors and church leaders in Ecuador, the Philippines, and in sister churches in the Keystone Baptist Association. He is chairman of the elders/pastors of Oakwood Baptist Church. He has served as a pastor at Oakwood since 2006.
Pastor Don has been married to Terry Ann Foose since 1972 and has five grown children and ten grandchildren. He resides in Silver Spring Township. He is a serious baseball fan who has followed the New York Yankee since his childhood days of admiring Mickey Mantle. He is also an avid golfer who plays every week in the warm months of the year.