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A Florida family is suing leaders of Gulf Breeze Methodist Church, along with the local Methodist denomination itself, for allowing a pastor to sexually assault a little girl (who’s one of the plaintiffs). The lawsuit says Methodist church leaders at all levels failed to do enough to prevent the sexual assault.

All of this started in 2019, when the victim was 13. Her family joined Gulf Breeze Methodist Church in their hopes that they could get her counseling for a different act of sexual abuse she faced when she was younger. Ryan Scott Walsh was the Youth Director at the church and spent several hours each week with children, including overnight trips. He also used a church-owned computer to chat with kids.

In fact, he told the girl in question, “I think I like younger girls because I feel like more of a man” and “I would very much enjoy the opportunity to fuck you.”

When her family discovered these messages, along with nude pictures he sent her, they informed church leaders about it… and rather than tell the police, they chose to handle it internally. It was only after Walsh admitted to inappropriately touching the girl and kissing her that they finally informed law enforcement. It quickly led to his arrest:

Ryan Scott Walsh, 27, was arrested Monday and charged with sexual lewd and lascivious behavior involving a minor over 12 and under 18 years old, transmitting obscene material to a minor and use of a computer to solicit or seduce a child.

Last month, he was finally sentenced to nearly 15 years in prison (including time served). Even when he gets out of jail, he’ll be on five years of probation and registered as a sex offender.

But the story doesn’t end there because the victim and her parent are now going after the other church leaders and their denomination for allowing this abuse to occur. The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday by the law firm Zarzaur Law, P.A., goes after Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church, the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, Pastor Dan Morris, Executive Pastor Kenneth York, and Walsh himself.

According to the law firm, they’re going after all the people who enabled this abuse to occur, including all the people who ignored the warning signs as well as the UMC’s own protocols designed to avoid this very problem:

The lawsuit alleges that Church and Conference officials negligently hired, trained, and supervised the Youth Pastor and violated its own policies and procedures. The suit alleges that these actions allowed the Youth Pastor to have access to youth in the church community and it permitted him to use all forms of social media (many times on church devices) to communicate with minor children.

Had the church leaders set aside their own biases in favor of Walsh, and followed the UMC’s own rules about making sure two unrelated adults were at hand for all programs involving children, and provided appropriate oversight when it came to Walsh’s communications with kids, this would never have happened. Similarly, if the UMC required member churches to adhere to their own damn rules and took action when those rules were being ignored, the abuse could have been prevented.

However this case turns out, it’s yet another example of a religious institution showing the world that its leaders cannot be trusted to protect kids and police themselves. It was only when law enforcement officials got involved that Walsh was arrested and eventually sent to jail.

How many victims do there need to be before responsible parents realize their children aren’t safe in churches that don’t take abuse seriously? The red flags were evident from the beginning but no one at the church did anything about it.

This lawsuit is meant to make sure no one associated with the Methodist church in the area avoids punishment even after the person who committed the sexual assault is sent away.

(via Joe. My. God.)

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.