Shock as Cape Town pastor is accused of preying on teen boys
Shock as church youth leader is arrested for preying on teen boys in Cape Town
IT’S a warm Sunday morning and runners competing in the Cape Town Marathon stream past on the streets outside, laughing and shouting.
But in the packed hall of the Common Ground Church in Rondebosch the mood is sombre as a senior pastor tries to make sense of the alleged scandal that’s rocked the community and made national headlines.
The past few weeks have been incredibly difficult for the church, Ryan TerMorshuizen tells the congregation. “News of one of our very own youth leaders has come out and we went on a journey to see him arrested after [it emerged] he’d allegedly been exploiting young members of one of our youth programmes [and] taking inappropriate pictures,” he says.
TerMorshuizen’s address to the church comes a week after a 27-year-old youth pastor appeared in the Wynberg magistrate’s court in connection with alleged possession of child pornography.
He can’t be named until he pleads to the charges. “It was difficult for the families and for us as leaders,” TerMorshuizen continues from the pulpit.
It was a nightmare making the front page of newspapers, not for service to the city and caring for its people, but linked to something that involves hurting and exploiting young people in their midst, he says.
The news hasn’t only devastated the church but shocked top schools in Cape Town’s southern suburbs, where the youth pastor worked as a sports photographer.
In a photograph on his personal webON site, which has since been shut down, the clean-shaven young man smiles at the camera.
He describes himself as a “youth pastor by day” and a “sports and action photographer by night”. The page is full of his photos of hockey players and surfers.
A man who’s had contact with the pastor on many occasions says he was the kind of person you could easily be friends with and seemed like a good guy. “He was very friendly and neat.”
But according to national police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo, the pastor allegedly took advantage of scores of boys aged 14 to 17 he targeted on social media.
He reportedly lured them by pretending to be a young girl and exchanged nude photos with them.
When the boys wanted to stop, he
allegedly threatened to expose their pictures online.
Many people in the church are struggling to reconcile their image of the clean-cut pastor with the allegations against him.
“I met him last year for the first time and he was a really nice guy. He was very chatty,” one source says.
He adds the pastor was clearly passionate about his work in the church. “It seemed he had a good upbringing, he was well-mannered and appeared to take care of himself. He was quite into sports.
“You could see the children looked up to him. You could tell they liked him.”
The man chatted with the pastor just a few weeks ago. Little did he know that within days he’d be standing in the dock.
“It’s mind-boggling. I can’t believe it.”
ON 5 SEPTEMBER the serial and electronic crimes investigation section of the police’s family violence, child protection and sexual offences unit swooped on the church and arrested the pastor.
Afterwards detectives examined various electronic devices, including cellphones, a laptop, a personal computer and memory cards.
In an interview with Cape Talk radio station TerMorshuizen said a parent had contacted the church a few weeks ago making allegations against the pastor.
“We immediately went to the police together with the parent. We worked with them for weeks to make a solid case so we could catch the perpetrator,” he added.
Among other parties the church worked with in further investigating the case was the directorate for priority crime investigation.
America’s department of homeland security also got involved because the suspect had used US-based social media platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp to contact victims.
Naidoo confirmed to YOU that more than 60 boys were allegedly targeted.
“We’re investigating about 65 cases and counting. Since our media statement more people have contacted the police.”
Chillingly, some of the alleged victims at Common Ground Church unknowingly confided in the pastor, telling him what they were too terrified to tell their parents: that they were being blackmailed online.
He allegedly advised them to continue sending pictures to their blackmailer to avoid getting into trouble.
Since his arrest the church has cancelled a youth camp he’d helped to arrange.
“We’re absolutely gutted that young lives have possibly been so negatively impacted by one of our own employees who was a trusted youth leader,” Rigby Wallace, the church’s founder and one of its leaders, said in a press statement.
He also said the church’s “highest concern” was the wellbeing of the kids involved and their families.
But the church’s management has declined to respond to further questions.
The pastor, who apparently started at the church as an intern in 2012, has been employed full-time since 2015
after completing a master’s degree in environmental sciences at the University of Cape Town.
According to one newspaper, he was investigated by the church two years ago after asking a boy who’d injured his private parts to send him a photograph of the injury.
Two therapists and forensic psychologists consulted with him as part of the investigation but allegedly found him fit to work with children. According to TimesLive, the psychological report indicated the boundaries between him and the children were vague because he was inexperienced.
‘I met him last year for the first time and he was a really nice guy. He was very chatty’
AS THE marathon runners continue to file past the church, TerMorshuizen finishes off.
“God encourages me and assures me that this won’t be the final word on this church. “God in his word has a purpose for us in this city. And still, as terrible as everything is now, shows us that He hasn’t deserted us,” he says.
After the morning service parents linger in the church’s popular coffee shop, trying to make sense of it all while their kids play outside, oblivious to the drama that’s shocked the popular church to its core.
SThe case resumes on 17 October.
The Rondebosch community was shocked when a youth pastor from the Common Ground Church was arrested for the alleged possession of child pornography.