Riverside Church denies it concealed or covered up sexual abuse

Riverside Church Senior Pastor Paul Booko released a statement on the church’s website this week in response to allegations of sexual abuse that recently resurfaced after they were initially reported to senior staff more than 10 years ago.

Booko expressed sympathy for the victim but denied claims that the church “concealed” or “covered up” the abuse when it was first reported. The statement reads as follows:

In regards to the incident that happened 10 years ago to a 15 year-old girl:

It breaks my heart that she went through this, and I am sorry she has had to live with this pain. I pray God will heal her heart. I hope she can forgive us for not doing more to help her. But, I will say unequivocally, this incident was not concealed nor covered up.

The adult youth leader accused of the abuse was immediately removed from serving with the young lady by the Youth Pastor. The Youth Pastor also reported it to a Pastor on staff. The abuse was reported to the Three Rivers Police and there was a PPO filed at the St. Joseph County Court.

We took the steps that we thought necessary and appropriate at the time that would help both persons involved by getting them professional counseling. As the Senior Pastor of Riverside Church, I take full responsibilities of any processes that did not get done properly.

The current Youth and Children’s ministries leaders and volunteers have gone through abuse training. The rest of the staff is also going through the training as well. We will continue to work hard to make sure nothing ever happens to any of our young people. We believe young people are the future of Riverside Church and that God has given us the responsibility to keep them safe.

Psalms 127:3 Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.

Pastor Paul Booko

Former members of Riverside Church led a protest on Sunday, May 8 against the church’s leadership amid recent allegations of sexual and spiritual abuse. (Deborah Haak-Frost|Watershed Voice)

In April, a former member of Riverside Church posted a statement on social media alleging she was “sexually abused and groomed” by a man who participated in the church’s youth ministry program when she was 15-years-old. “He didn’t leave me alone, continued to stalk me and try to reach out to me until I was 20,” the statement reads. She would eventually tell church leadership about the alleged abuse, and according to her, the church didn’t want to get police involved. 

“They did remove (name redacted) from volunteering in the youth ministry but let him have a volunteer position helping out with their live-streaming services,” she said. “That means he has sat in the tech booth every Sunday morning for the last 10 years. He’s been in service with you if you’ve gone to Riverside Church. He’s been around you and your children. Nothing was ever done to cause him to leave, and he has never been in any trouble. Leadership knows about it, and always has.”

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor and publisher of Watershed Voice.


Sign-up for our free daily newsletter to receive local news & culture in your inbox