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

YOU (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY CHARLEA SIEBERHAGEN-GREY & PI­ETER VAN ZYL

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.