The lead pastor at Albany First Assembly church wrote a letter to church members on Saturday, informing them of a lawsuit filed against the church by six men who say they were sexually abused as children by church youth leaders.
“As a church with a rich history in and reputation for valuing, caring for and serving all people, we are deeply saddened by any mistreatment of anyone, but especially of those who are most vulnerable among us,” Frank Silverii stated in the letter. “Therefore, we commit ourselves to pray for the plaintiffs that they will receive the healing, hope and restoration that is needed.”
The lawsuit was filed Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Five of the plaintiffs are represented by their initials in the suit. The sixth plaintiff is listed as Anthony Burwell. The defendants are the First Assembly of God of Albany, Assemblies of God Oregon District and the General Council of the Assemblies of God.
First Assembly church in Albany rebranded last year as Hope Church.
The plaintiffs assert that two leaders of a church youth program sexually abused them in the 1980s. According to the complaint, Ralph Wade Gantt and Todd Clark were leaders in the church-sponsored Royal Rangers, an educational and recreational program for boys similar to Boy Scouts. The lawsuit alleges Gantt and Clark abused their position of leadership, trust and respect to repeatedly sexually abuse the six plaintiffs when they were as young as 10 years old.
Gantt and Clark were criminally convicted in 1988 for sexually abusing several boys, one of whom is a plaintiff in the current lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the church and its governing organizations failed to investigate and let police know when a boy in 1984 reported Clark had sexually abused him.
Silverii stated in his letter that the church “moved away from the Royal Ranger program back in 2011.” (A copy of the letter, see the online version of this story.)
He said the church’s current Kids Small Groups program involves boys and girls and is structured in group settings with multiple leaders. He said extracurricular activities like sleepovers are hosted on the church campus or at retreat settings and not at individual’s homes. Silverii also said that every person who serves around minors is required to go through a FBI background check and training in child safety.
“The protection of our kids is paramount to God and to us,” he wrote.
“Also, it is important to note that we are incredibly proud of all those who currently lead and work with our children and youth, and extremely confident in the level of care and safety these ministries provide,” Silverii added.
Silverii states that after a lawsuit was settled in 1991 regarding abuse by Gantt and Clark, the church used media outlets to seek other victims who were abused by Royal Ranger volunteers.
“No one else stepped forward until 2016, which was another lawsuit alleging abuse from the 1980s, and again today (27 years later),” Silverii wrote.
The Dumas Law Group, which is representing the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit, filed suit against the Albany First Assembly church in 2016 on behalf of a separate plaintiff who alleged abuse by Clark and Gantt. That lawsuit was recently resolved with a confidential settlement, said Gilion Dumas.
She said the delay in pursuing a civil lawsuit is common with abuse victims.
"As a result of the trauma caused by childhood sexual abuse, very few sexual abuse survivors — especially male survivors — ever report what happened to them," Dumas said. "It can be years and even decades before those who do report come forward to do something."