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Chauncey Walker, youth pastor at Word of Life Ministries in Wichita, Kansas, stands accused of having sex with a teen church girl. Based on the following news story, it also seems that the church’s pastor Robert Rotola Sr. did not report the crimes when he learned of them. The alleged crime is bad enough, but, as Rotola’s words show, some pastors are only interested in protecting their church’s name. He will get a chance to defend his words in court. The victim has sued Word of Life Ministries, Pastor Rotola Sr. and his son Robert Rotola Jr, seeking damages in excess of $575,000.
A former Wichita youth pastor — in jail and facing trial on sex-crime charges involving a 15-year-old church member — admitted during a recorded phone conversation to having sex with her.
“She was 15 when it started, and it progressed from there,” former Word of Life youth pastor Chauncey Walker says in the recording. He had sex with the girl the first time at Ground Zero, the Word of Life youth facility, he said. According to the charges, it happened about five years ago.
Once the allegations surfaced, he conceded, he wasn’t honest at first about her age “because, I’ll just be honest — I didn’t want to go to jail.”
An adult relative of the teen recorded his conversation with Walker on Aug. 9 or Aug. 10 and reported it to police before Walker’s arrest in August, says an attorney representing the alleged victim. The attorney provided The Eagle with the recordings and identified the voices.
In a separate phone conversation around the same time, also before the arrest, the alleged victim told the senior pastor at Word of Life Church, Robert Rotola Sr., that she was offended because she felt he was protecting Walker.
In the recording with the alleged victim, Rotola Sr. denied he was taking Walker’s side, adding: “Yeah, it’s a scumbag move (a youth pastor having sex with a girl), and people can’t be in the ministry that do that,” he said. “But he removed himself before (inaudible) a chance to do that. I don’t know what else to do.”
Rotola Sr. told her that if her relative reported it to police, he wanted a “heads-up” so he could alert his staff and be prepared for media questions. The alleged victim said several times during the conversation that she was not going to report it.
Neither Walker nor Rotola Sr. knew that the conversations were being recorded. Under Kansas law, only one party needs to consent to recording a conversation.
The senior pastor never conveyed a desire to report the allegations, and “the only involvement he had was try to cover it up,” says Jonathan McConnell, an attorney for the alleged victim.
The attorney for Word of Life Ministries, Ross Hollander, gave this statement Friday: “My clients prefer to plead the details of their case to a jury rather than to the media. They acknowledge that the lawsuit alleges tragic conduct. They place their faith in the legal process where they can present their side of the case.” In a court document, they have denied allegations that they are at fault.
The alleged victim is suing Word of Life Ministries and Schools Inc., Rotola Sr. and his son, church school administrator Robert Rotola Jr.
She is seeking damages of more than $575,000.
The alleged victim and her family attended the church; at one point, she went to Life Preparatory Academy, a school run by Word of Life.
The court document laying out the allegations in the lawsuit says that after a woman who was hosting foreign exchange students reported that an exchange student at the Word of Life school received inappropriate text messages from Walker, Rotola Jr. said he would “take care of the situation.” When the host mother later found journal entries by the student about inappropriate relations with Walker and showed the journal to Rotola Jr. and Rotola Sr., the older Rotola took the journal and removed the foreign exchange student from the home, the lawsuit says.
Rotola Sr. “threatened to remove the host mother’s other foreign exchange student if (she) continued to push the matter,” it says.
Word of Life lists several campuses and a main address at 3811 N. Meridian. It employed Walker as youth pastor at Ground Zero, where he led activities for young teens, the lawsuit says. He also served as the girls soccer coach at the Word of Life school.
The recording of Walker is part of the criminal case against him, McConnell said. Walker, 48, has remained in jail since August after being charged with aggravated indecent liberties and two counts of criminal sodomy. He faces a trial on April 9.
According to the church’s website, its vision is:
Word of Life Church has embarked on a unique journey. We have experienced several church mergers enabling us to combine efforts, join facilities, and adopt one vision to become much more powerful together than apart. Two are better than one; and multiple campuses all joining their parts together make for one strong and effective part!
By combining talents and callings, we are advancing the ministry of Christ more quickly. Partnering to do outreach and missions has produced major results for the Kingdom! Our missions plan, entitled “Vision 2020”, launched in 2006, has now seen over 3,050,000 people become followers of Christ around the world. Vision 2020’s goal is to win 20 million.
“Walking out our Christianity with others” is a much higher paradigm than “Going it alone”. We are sharing LIFE with the lost and doing so in harmony, unity, and strength .
We are one church with multiple campuses. All of our 140+ campuses have made a covenant to see the mission of Vision 2020 come to pass. Word of Life is serving many individuals and families with a highly acclaimed Counseling Center, Preschool & Childcare, Elementary & Secondary School, and Bible Institute. Our weekly church services include dynamic worship, teaching and small groups. The kids love children’s church! We also have weekly services for teens, young adults and more.
It is our honor to serve the Lord Jesus in the city of Wichita as Senior Pastors of Word of Life Church Wichita since 1989.
Pastor Rob and Debbie Rotola