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Pastor arrested for rape, molestation

LAKE CHARLES, La. (BP) — A former Southern Baptist pastor is jailed in Lake Charles, La., after allegedly raping and molesting a pre-teen girl for two years, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office (CPSO) reported June 17.

Bellview Baptist Church in Westlake, La., fired 45-year-old John Michael Ward after his arrest, the church said in a statement released yesterday (June 19) by the Carey Baptist Association of Lake Charles.

“Bellview Baptist Church leaders are cooperating fully with the sheriff’s office in the investigation,” the church said in the statement released by Bruce Baker, Carey missions director. “The deacons, in consultation with Carey Baptist Association, unanimously voted to immediately terminate Ward’s employment with the congregation because of his sexual immorality and failure to maintain the high standard of integrity for the office of pastor outlined in the Bible.” Ward had pastored the church since 2012.

Ward is in the Calcasieu Correctional Center on 10 counts of first-degree rape, 40 counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile and two counts of pornography involving a juvenile, the CPSO said in a press release. His bond is set at $640,000.

The CPSO arrested Ward after conducting an investigation based on an anonymous tip received on the Department of Child & Family Services’ tip line, the CPSO said.

“Ward confirmed to detectives he has been molesting an 11-year-old girl since 2017 when she was 9 years old,” the CPSO reported. “Ward also advised detectives he videoed the girl while she was nude on two separate occasions.”

Bellview Baptist leaders have requested “prayer, respect, and privacy” as they “process this traumatic event.”

Church leaders are ministering to the victim’s family and have offered to help underwrite counseling, Baker said. Also, church deacons have offered continued financial support and ministerial aid to Ward’s wife and her family.

“The Carey Baptist Association and the Louisiana Baptist Convention have connected with church leaders to coordinate various resources that are available to the church in meeting these various commitments,” Baker said in the statement.

Bellview Baptist averages 60 in Sunday attendance from a resident membership of 363, according to the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profile.

The SBC addressed the issue of sexual abuse extensively at its 2019 annual meeting June 11-12, passing constitutional and bylaw amendments, conducting panel discussions and releasing new resources to equip churches to combat abuse, submit perpetrators to criminal justice and minister to victims.