Attorney Commentary: Read on to the second section of this article for legal commentary from Dan Lipman, a church sexual abuse lawyer.
A former youth pastor at the Fellowship of the Rockies church in Colorado Springs has pleaded guilty to reduced charges in a child sexual assault case as part of a deal with prosecutors. Stephen Houlihan pleaded guilty to obscenity after originally being charged with sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a child.
Court records say that Houlihan allegedly sent a 15-year-old girl Instagram messages with several sexually explicit photos. An arrest affidavit also says that he "repeatedly expressed a desire to have sex with her." He also allegedly asked the girl to send nude photos of herself. These messages were reportedly sent while Houlihan was in a church office.
The victim also visited Houlihan's home, where they kissed twice, according to court documents.
According to the affidavit, Houlihan was planning to move to Texas for a different job and wanted to continue engaging in sexual misconduct with the victim.
Houlihan will spend five years on intensive sex offender supervised probation.
Attorney contributor Dan Lipman represents victims of sexual abuse by pastors and other clergy members in civil lawsuits. We've asked Dan to share some of his thoughts on the legal options available to these victims and their families:
In many sex abuse cases, the abuser was someone close to the victim and in a position of trust. Our sex abuse victim lawyers regularly see this first hand, and church clergy members in many different denominations have been arrested for sexually abusing members of their congregations. Church officials must be aware of the dangers that sexual predators pose to their members and must do everything they can to make sure clergy members are trustworthy and followers are safe.
When a youth pastor or another clergy member is arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a church member, it's important to ask if church officials did all that they could to prevent the abuse. Churches have a legal obligation to protect their follower as much as possible. Some abuse cases may not have happened if not for a failure to meet this legal obligation. In such cases, the church could be considered negligent and held liable in a civil sex abuse lawsuit.
If you or your child is a survivor of clergy sex abuse, you can learn more about your legal rights by discussing your case with one of our experienced sex abuse victim lawyers in a free consultation.