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Tuesday, October 20 2020 @ 05:34 PM CDT

Christianity Today : Church CoverUP! Texas Church knew of minister's previous sexual deviancy

Whited Sepulchers

A sex abuse scandal tore apart Trinity Worship Center in Pharr four years ago.

More than half the congregation left the church after word spread that its music minister was sexually involved with a 14-year-old boy.

Now, the church is fighting allegations that could prove even more damaging - that its top leaders knew of several previous relationships Robert Franklin had with young boys and hired him anyway.

In a civil trial that began Monday, the family of Franklin's teen victim alleges church leaders knowingly put their son in danger.

"Trinity Worship Center made a conscious decision not to follow up on information that Robert Franklin gave them himself," said the family's attorney, Hector Canales. "No inquiry was done."

Current church leaders maintain they knew nothing about Franklin's past until his arrest.

"This is not a situation where somebody found out and tried to cover it up," said the church's attorney, Rex Leach. "When this happened it was a tremendous blow."

History of abuse

It is The Monitor's policy not to identify victims of sexual abuse or their family members to protect their privacy.

In the lawsuit against the church, the family is only named as Jane, Jim and John Doe.

Franklin, 42, pleaded guilty in 2005 to having a sexual relationship with the teen, now 18, over a three-month period.

The two met when the boy's mother asked him to counsel her son, but their friendship quickly grew to involve drug use, overnight sleepovers and eventually sex, Franklin said at a sentencing hearing.

Throughout, the former music minister maintained their relationship had been consensual and that the teen had initiated the sexual acts.

But Canales told a different story during his opening statements Monday.

Franklin had played out a similar pattern for years in congregations around the world, he said. He identified young boys in troubled family situations, plied them with drugs and then slept with them.

Allegations of sexual abuse arose at Assembly of God churches in Glendive, Mont., and Pensacola, Fla., where Franklin had either worked as a staff member or a volunteer, according to court filings.

No criminal charges were filed in either case, but the former music minister has since admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a teen in Montana that prompted Assembly of God leaders to strip him of his ability to minister.

The documents also accuse Franklin of sexually abusing a teen in Romania while on a mission trip. He eventually had to flee the country under threat of death from the alleged victim's father, according to court documents.

But none of that seemed to concern Trinity Worship Center leaders when they hired Franklin in 1999, Canales said.

'The stain of Robert Franklin'

Trinity's former pastor, Robert L. Kane, hired the young minister on recommendation of a friend - John Kilpatrick, the head of Franklin's former church in Florida.

But Kilpatrick, who is expected to testify on behalf of the victim's family, said he also warned Kane of Franklin's past. Witnesses testified Monday that the stories later became fodder for office gossip at Trinity.

Kane left the church before the music minister's 2004 arrest and is now living in Mississippi.

Trinity's current pastor, Robert Richardson, took over leadership at the church less than a month before Franklin was accused. He said he was never briefed on the music minister's past and suspended him within days of finding out.

But it was too late to prevent another incident.

"Trinity Worship Center - to this day - wears the stain of Robert Franklin," said Leach, whose firm represents The Monitor in unrelated matters.

The victim's family is asking for unspecified damages to compensate them for pain the abuse inflicted. Since Franklin's relationship with the teen came to light, the boy has contemplated suicide and feared that Franklin would try to kill him and his family, their lawsuit states.

He has also been hospitalized several times and his spleen had to be removed because of complications suffered during a beating the family alleges Franklin instructed other youths to carry out.

Franklin remains incarcerated on an 18-year state prison term. Although state District Court Judge Mario E. Ramirez initially sentenced him to six months in jail and a 10-year probation term for the crime, he revoked it in 2006 after Franklin was charged with drug possession months after getting out of jail.

Testimony in the civil trial is expected to resume this morning.


Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor.

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