A youth pastor has been charged with sexual assault after he gained approval to become engaged to a 14-year-old girl when he was 26.
In the late 1990s, Robert Fenton, then a youth pastor at Abide in the Vine Church in Owego, New York, reportedly convinced the girl’s parents and church leadership to allow him to become engaged to the teenager. He told them he had a vision “declaring that God wanted the (girl) to be his spouse.”
According to ChurchLeaders.com, the girl’s parents went to church leadership for guidance after Fenton asked for permission to betroth their daughter. The church’s leadership team, which included Fenton’s father, who was a church elder, told them it was “more of a courtship rather than dating.”
Fenton was not allowed to date the girl because of their age difference, but he was allowed to court her as long as there was no physical contact between them and they were not left alone without another adult present. Fenton was also given permission to marry the girl under the condition that no sexual activity would take place.
But the now 40-year-old woman says Fenton “frequently” assaulted her during his two years at the church.
He is now being charged with sexual assault, aggravated assault, and corruption of a minor.
“I want survivors to know—we believe you. We will not let predators get away with the sexual assault of children,” said Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
BREAKING— AG Josh Shapiro (@PAAttorneyGen) April 25, 2022
I’m announcing charges against former youth pastor Robert Fenton for assaulting a 14 year old member of his religious community.
I want survivors to know — we believe you. We will not let predators get away with the sexual assault of children.https://t.co/AzdoWE53jQ
The woman said in her affidavit that Fenton would often visit her parents’ house about two to three times a week. During those visits, Fenton would sexually assault her, she said.
The couple was set to be married in June 1998 when the girl was 16. She, however, called off the wedding.
“The defendant used his power and authority in his religious community to lie, manipulate and regularly abuse a young girl in his community,” Shapiro said. “I promised we would hold anyone who was abusing children accountable—and Robert Fenton is no exception. Survivors experience a lifetime of anguish and trauma trying to overcome the impact of abuse. I want survivors to know—we believe you, and we will not let predators get away with the sexual assault of children.”
Photo courtesy: Emiliano Bar/Unsplash
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.