By Jeff Pack
Writer 

What is happening at Faith Baptist Church?

Victims, critics say culture at the Wildomar church is dangerous

 

Last updated 8/9/2019 at 5:08pm

Jeff Pack photo

Critics say that Faith Baptist Church in Wildomar, along with its founding pastor, Bruce Goddard, has created a dangerous environment and culture that has contributed to two separate sexual assault arrests involving youth pastors in the past year.

In the wake of a second recent occurrence of an arrest involving a youth pastor accused of sexually molesting teenage girls at Faith Baptist Church, victims and critics of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in Wildomar are coming forward to talk about the culture and practices that they said are dangerous.

Late last week, Laverne Paul Fox, 60, was extradited from his home in Erie, Pennsylvania, and charged with molesting a girl nearly 30 years ago while serving as a youth pastor.

Fox had been slated to be arraigned on charges of lewd acts on a child, oral copulation of a minor and forced sexual penetration of a child under 16 years old, but he posted bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside Tuesday, Aug. 1. He will next appear in court at his arraignment Oct. 2, at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta.

According to Riverside County Sheriff Department Sgt. Glenn Warrington from the Lake Elsinore Station, detectives became aware of Fox's alleged offenses while conducting a separate investigation into the sexual abuse of three teenage girls by another youth pastor, 46-year-old Malo Victor Monteiro of Colton.


Monteiro, who committed the crimes while employed by the Faith Baptist Church in Wildomar, pleaded guilty last November to seven sex-related felonies and was sentenced to five years and four months in state prison under a plea agreement authorized by Superior Court Judge Kelly Hansen, without input from the District Attorney's Office.

Though the two were accused of similar crimes, there was no indication that Monteiro and Fox were acquainted. But according to multiple sources, including online posts by Fox's victim, Monteiro was intimately aware that Fox was alleged to have committed crimes against the woman, as he was married to the alleged victim's sister.

Following the publishing of Fox's arrest, the Valley News made several attempts to reach church officials for comment, but have yet to receive a response.

The Valley News also reached out to people currently or formerly associated with the church – as well as Monteiro's victims – to talk about what happened to them.

Several victims and former church members responded, and some pointed to other former Faith Baptist Church or Faith Baptist Academy staff members who were arrested for sex-related crimes during their time with the church or since moving on.

This story is the first in a series by the Valley News asking questions about whether Faith Baptist Church, the associated Faith Baptist Academy and founding church leader Bruce Goddard have fostered a culture that is dangerous in the community.


What is Faith Baptist Church?

According to the Faith Baptist Church website, the church was founded in 1982 by Goddard and his wife, Tammy, and it currently sits within two miles of Elsinore High School on Walnut Street in Wildomar.

The sprawling complex has buses, a multitude of buildings on the property and an athletic field on the corner of Walnut and Mission Trail Drive.

The church promotes service times at 9 a.m. for Sunday school, a morning service at 10:30 a.m. and an evening service at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. There is also a Wednesday evening service at 7 p.m.

In addition to the church, Faith Baptist Academy, an unaccredited private school, is also located on the property.

According to the school's website, the academy "was founded by concerned and loving parents who realized that their children were spending over 30 hours a week in an environment contrary to the beliefs of their families and their church."

According to the website, the teachers at the school are also members of the church who are "doctrinally, socially and morally aligned with the parents who attend Faith Baptist."

The academy is a closed school, available only to students and families "who are faithful members of Faith Baptist Church."

Former church and staff member speaks out.

Emily Wedel reached out to the Valley News to talk about her experience as a church member and staff member at the school.

Initially, it was to inform the newspaper that two more former staffers had been arrested, one for sending and receiving obscene matter and another who left the Wildomar school to serve as a principal at Willows Baptist Academy in Northern California.


Wedel is also the sister of one of Monteiro's victims, and she and her husband taught in the primary department, working with 4- and 5-year-old girls.

Her family had been a member of Faith Baptist Church for 30 years until they independently discovered that a man who the couple had worked with in the primary department, they said, had been arrested for sending or receiving obscene matter in 2017 by an FBI task force.

She shared the document with the Valley News, but a review of California's Megan's Law website did not confirm the man as a registered sex offender, as such we aren't including his name in this story. She said one day the man was working in the department, and the next, he just disappeared.

"No one at the church was told anything," Wedel said. "He was quietly removed without a word. He still attended Wednesday night services and attended a men's trip last year. We worked in his department for five years and was not told anything."

She said a family approached Goddard at one point to ask where the man had gone and Goddard explained that the man was overwhelmed at work and that they needed to do some restructuring.

Until that point, the couple had stuck by the church and Goddard, Wedel said, after Monteiro had been arrested and convicted of the crimes against her sister. She said the discovery of the information that she believes to be true about her former coworker was enough to make them leave.

"It confirmed to us that how (Goddard) was handling (Monteiro's) situation was not an accident," Wedel said. "He was intentionally covering the truth and keeping his people in the dark. Manipulating truth to his benefit. He had covered for (the man) and still allowed him on the property. We had a son that would have been in his class that year and we never knew anything. So we were done. Our children are not safe in that environment. How can we protect our children if we are not informed?"

Wedel blamed Goddard for keeping them and the entire congregation in the dark. She said she now believes that secrecy is a big part of how Goddard runs his church and academy.

"(Goddard) handles everything on his own," Wedel said. "You're taught not to talk to anyone else (gossip) and to bring it directly to the pastor. When you do, you trust him to handle it correctly. So, when issues are brought to (Goddard), no one else knows. He handles it quickly and quietly and no one is the wiser.

"A few people ask questions, but (Goddard) manipulates the truth. They trust their pastor and leave it alone," Wedel said.

Next, she referenced the case of Carlton Farsworth Hammonds, who was a member of the church before moving to serve as the principal of Willows Baptist Academy.

In 2010, Hammonds was convicted of three felony counts of lewd acts on a 14-year-old minor and one misdemeanor count of annoying or molesting a minor. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison.

"We were told that (Hammonds) was falsely accused and imprisoned, that the girl, singular, lied and that he was innocent," Wedel said. "Everyone believed that he was innocent. It wasn't until recently that we found out there were multiple girls involved in the case, not just one.

"So, yet again Bruce Goddard lied to his congregation to mislead them. Bruce even allowed Hammonds to stay on the property in his big rig after (Hammonds) was released from prison," she said.

She said that having that level of control over his congregation has enabled him to keep unsavory activities within the church and school out of the public eye.

"He holds so much power, so much sway over what people believe," Wedel said. "I blame Bruce Goddard for his enabling of these predators. He has chosen again and again and again to handle these issues himself alone without taking it to the proper authorities. He is so good at manipulating the truth to get you to think exactly what he wants without saying it. It's all about control."

Now that the Wedel family has left the congregation, she said the family has been shunned.

"We have been completely cut off from the church," Wedel said. "Our family attended for 35 years. We left, and no one has reached out to us. Once you leave, you are done. No one wants anything to do with you."

Reaction heard from officials.

The Valley News reached out to several agencies regarding the possibility of complaints about the church and academy over the years, including city officials for their reaction to the news that the church has been connected to a second arrest involving sexual assault and teenage girls.

The city of Wildomar is crafting an official response to questions from the Valley News, but city councilmember Joseph Morabito did respond to questions.

"I've read several published accounts of things that have been said to have happened at FBA and FBC, and it's caused more of a reaction than a simple 'raised eyebrow,'" Morabito said. "At the same time, being outraged over the details in reports, which I hope everyone would be – they are very upsetting – there is such thing as due process.

"Allow me to liken it to a person seeing a house on fire from the other side of a river, knowing they can't do anything to alleviate or help the situation ... even if they were so inclined.

"The city contracts with (Riverside County Sheriff's Department) for police matters and investigative services, and if there is criminal activity reported, RSO immediately responds. The city reports all suspected crimes to the RSO for further action and does not cover-up," Morabito said.

Questions directed at the Riverside County Sheriff's Department's Media Information Bureau were responded to with a phone call.

The responding deputy told the Valley News that an investigation is ongoing and intimated that the investigation into the case involving Fox would extend into the church's handling of any alleged cover-up of a reported crime by a member of the church.

The Valley News also reached out to the California Department of Education to inquire whether there had been any complaints filed with the department connected with Faith Baptist Academy.

But according to Scott Roark, information officer with the communications division of the CDE, contrary to popular believe, the CDE has no control over private schools.

"Under current state law, private schools must register with the state by filing an annual affidavit, but the CDE does not approve, monitor, inspect or oversee them in any way," Roark said. "This also applies to the curriculum that private schools use. CDE does include private schools such as Faith Baptist Academy in its school directory, but as stated on the CDE website, inclusion of a school in this directory should not be interpreted as meaning that the state of California, the state superintendent of public instruction, the state Board of Education, CDE or any other agency has made any evaluation, approval or endorsement of any school listed."

Roark said that even if someone had complained to the CDE, they would have been directed to local authorities.

"If there are allegations of abuse at the private school, the local authorities should be contacted," Roark said.

What happens next?

The Valley News will continue to investigate the cases involving the victims of Monteiro and the alleged victim of Fox. We will tell the stories of the three women who were molested by Monteiro, who have become close since their former youth pastor was sent to jail.

They, along with another victim, have filed lawsuits against Monteiro, the church, the school and Goddard. We will continue to speak with former members of the church that allege that the church fosters a culture that they say is dangerous to the community.

In future stories, we will take a look at the so-called "mother church," First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, founded by Jack Hyles as an independent fundamental Baptist church, as well as Faith Baptist Church in Wildomar's ties to Hyles Anderson College.

According to a 2018 report by the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, there have been "at least 412 allegations of sexual misconduct in 187 independent fundamental Baptist churches and their affiliated institutions, spanning 40 states and Canada."

City News Service contributed to this report.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected]

Courtesy photo

Pastor Bruce Goddard, seen here in a published Youtube sermon in 2019, has led Faith Baptist Church since its inception in 1982.

 

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