by Sarah Fenske
Two people being sued by First Christian Church of Florissant and its pastor, Steve Wingfield, are firing back, with motions to dismiss the church's lawsuit and a press release challenging the pastor's claims.
As this week's Riverfront Times cover story detailed, Dawn Varvil met with Wingfield in 2012 and shared her concerns about a youth minister at the church named Brandon Milburn.
Two years later, Milburn was arrested for molesting two boys he had met through the church -- and a church member named Doug Lay prepared a report questioning what Wingfield knew about Milburn and whether he took appropriate action. The report focused in part on what happened at Varvil's meeting with Wingfield.
Wingfield responded by suing both Lay and Varvil, as well as former members Titus and Kari Benton, who'd criticized him on Facebook.
Lay hired a lawyer almost immediately, and filed a response in late April. Thanks to a GoFundMe campaign, Varvil has also hired a lawyer.
That lawyer, Nicole Gorovsky, sharply criticized Wingfield and his legal action in a prepared release.
"This lawsuit is offensive to Missouri's public policy of preventing child abuse, it is contrary to the United Stated Constitution, and it is morally wrong," Gorovsky wrote. "It is an abuse of the system to viciously go after someone for doing the right thing, and the case must be dismissed."
In a four-page letter to Wingfield's attorney, James Wyrsch, dated April 27, Lay's attorney Al W. Johnson took on a more detailed criticism of documents posted on the church website. Among other things, Johnson took issue with the church's assertion that it was trying to resolve the matter, saying he'd thrice tried to arrange meetings, with no success: "The statements that FCCF is 'currently reaching out' to meet with my client are simply untruthful."
Wingfield's problems may not be going away any time soon. The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, better known as SNAP, issued a press release of its own on Wednesday, immediately after the publication of the Riverfront Times' story.
"Shame on the pastor and his top aides for lashing out at, and trying to intimidate, caring whistleblowers," SNAP's director David Clohessy said in the release. "We urge anyone who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes by Milburn or cover ups at First Christian to summon the strength to call police and prosecutors. Though Milburn is behind bars, it's possible that some who ignored or concealed suspicions of his crimes may face justice too."
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