An Apopka church may facing scrutiny in connection with the actions of one of its youth ministry interns. According to a report by the Orlando Sentinel, Seth Werling was working as a youth ministry intern for Apopka Calvary Nazarene Church when he began sending sexually inappropriate text messages and exchanging sexually explicit images with a 15-year old girl.
Apparently, Mr. Werling first met the young girl in the summer of 2010 while he interned at Lake Bridge Nazarene Church in Eustis. He maintained contact with the girl when he began interning at Apopka Calvary Nazarene in the fall of 2010. Mr. Werling also reportedly worked at the Community Christian Learning Center, although it is unclear how much contact he had with youth in that capacity.
According to the report, things escalated in spring 2011 when Mr. Werling interacted with the 15-year old during church Spring Break activities, and the two began exchanging sexually provocative text messages and images. The girl finally confided to a friend who reported matters to one of the pastors at Apopka Calvary Nazarene.
The senior pastors at Apopka Calvary Nazarene apparently confronted Werling and advised him to leave the area and never contact any of the church’s youth again. The report does not state whether the pastors thought to contact law enforcement and report Mr. Werling’s activities. Law enforcement was later informed and wound up arresting Mr. Werling in his home state of Ohio. He was extradited to Florida, where he was jailed.
As a Winter Park child sexual abuse attorney, it will be interesting to see what additional facts come out about this case. In cases where an organization or institution is wholly or partially responsible for placing a child in a situation of danger with a child abuser, the organization (here, the church) can be held liable if it can be proven that the organization was negligent in hiring the individual (i.e. not performing a thorough background check), or negligent in failing to monitor the individual.
If I was involved in this case (or was the parent of the child/victim), I would want to know what the church knew or should have known about Mr. Werling, and his background with other children at previous churches. I would also want to know who was responsible for supervising Mr. Werling with children, and what kind of contact he was allowed to have with the child involved in this incident. I would also want to know whether Mr. Werling utilized church equipment to communicate with the child.
According to the reporting here, while Mr. Werling’s actions were reprehensible and disgusting, perhaps the relationship had not risen to the level where lasting harm might have been done. The young lady here might have been one of the lucky ones.
If you have any questions about cases arising out of child sexual abuse, call Winter Park accident attorneys Kim Cullen and Robert Hemphill at 407-644-4444.