Richmond Megachurch Loses Four Pastors Following Criminal Charges
Update (July 10): In an exclusive interview with local news station CBS 6, former Richmond Outreach Center (ROC) pastor and founder Geronimo Aguilar says he is innocent. Aguilar also stated that although he was surprised over the allegations and their timing—some 17 years after the alleged abuse—the legal proceedings have "made me lean on God more than ever." Aguilar declined to comment on the recent resignation of three other ROC leaders.
Update (June 10): Local media are reporting that Richmond Outreach Center (ROC) has recruited Jonathan Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, to "offer counsel as the ROC looks for a new leader while continuing to operate the church's ministries."
The Richmond Times-Dispatch also reports that ROC is severing ties with founding pastor Geronimo Aguilar, who must vacate his $500,000 church-owned parsonage.
Update (June 6): Local news sources report that four of the five pastors at Richmond Outreach Center (ROC) have resigned from their positions. The resignations came one day after the release of more details regarding the sex abuse case against ROC founding pastor Geronimo Aguilar, which has "shattered" the church.
The church announced the resignations Wednesday evening, stating that Aguilar and the others had been released "upon mutually agreeable terms." According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "Other resignations were accepted from Jason Helmlinger, executive pastor; Andrew Delgado, children's pastor; and Matthew Aguilar, assistant pastor and brother of Geronimo Aguilar."
The ROC board of directors issued this statement:
The Richmond Outreach Center held a Board meeting this evening, June 5, 2013. Upon mutually agreeable terms, we hereby announce that we have accepted the resignations of Pastor Geronimo Aguilar, Pastor Jason Helmlinger, Pastor Andrew Delgado and Pastor Matthew Aguilar. We wish the best for the pastors and their families. The Richmond Outreach Center remains focused on serving those in need and we will never stray from this mission.
[Originally published May 29, 2013]
It's been a rough month for Richmond Outreach Center (ROC) in Richmond, Virginia. Within a week, two of the well-regarded megachurch's pastors temporarily vacated their posts in order to sort out allegations against them in two separate-but-related cases.
In a statement posted to the church's website yesterday, ROC announced that executive pastor Jason Helmlinger "voluntarily removed himself from his pastoral duties while he addresses his summons." Helmlinger is facing a misdemeanor charge for allegedly making a threatening phone call to a former church member who criticized ROC founder Geronimo Aguilar, reports local NBC affiliate WWBT.
The former member, Allen Caldwell, told local ABC affiliate WRIC that he witnessed "alleged inappropriate behavior between [Aguilar] and some church wives." Soon after that interview, Helmlinger allegedly called Caldwell and "yelled profanities and threatened to do bodily harm to [him]," reports WRIC.
Meanwhile, Aguilar himself is on paid leave while he faces child sexual abuse charges in Texas, where he currently is in custody. Local news sources in Richmond report that Aguilar "faces seven charges that, if convicted, could mean he'll spend the rest of his life in prison."
According to WWBT, "The cases involve claims by two women dating back to 1996. Four of the counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child under 14, are first degree felonies."
The church announced its decision to offer Aguilar paid leave on May 23, stating:
It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that Pastor Geronimo has decided to temporarily step down as President of the Board and as Pastor of the Richmond Outreach Center to devote his time and energy to certain legal matters in Texas. While we believe the accusations against him to be completely untrue and unfounded, we have accepted his request for a temporary leave of absence. Considering the severity of the charges, he feels and we sympathize that his family and these legal matters deserve his full attention.