The Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church was sued Monday, with church officials being accused of not protecting children from a sexual predator who was also at one time the church's youth choir teacher.
Greg Starkey pleaded guilty in 2009 to criminal charges in connection to the molestation of two girls whom he was supervising in the choir, according to court papers filed Monday by attorney Irwin M. Zalkin. Starkey was sentenced to supervised probation and forced to register as a sex offender.
Starkey, who is now 27 years old, may now be living in the Escondido area, according to the Megan's Law data base. He was convicted last year of sexual penetration of a victim under 16 years old with a foreign object.
According to the suit filed by Zalkin, who, his office said, "has negotiated over $200 million in settlements in Catholic clergy sex abuse cases," the two victims are now 17 and 18 years old. The court paper alleges that church officials "were aware as early as 2004 of Starkey’s predatory behavior toward young girls in the church's youth programs and, in fact, he had been fired and then inexplicably was rehired," Zalkin said in a news release.
For its part, the church is denying the allegations and, through a statement filed by its attorney Robert H. Quayle, said, "the church in no way knowingly contributed to these alleged instances of abuse."
Quayle said Starkey was fired by the church as soon as officials determined that inappropriate text messages had been sent to one of the victims. The attorney also said the church conducted a background check on Starkey prior to his employment.
Several members of the congregation who didn't want to be identified said in the church parking lot Tuesday that they were unaware of the allegations and didn't recognize the name of the former youth choir director.
The Rev. Neal Nybo, the church's executive pastor, acknowledged that, regardless of the outcome of the case, the allegations are a black eye for the church.
"We want to assure parents and church members that our children's safety is of the utmost concern," said Nybo.
Zalkin said similar allegations had been made against another choir program employee in the past.
"Starkey is not the first sexual predator employed by this church” said Zalkin, whose filed complaint alleges that parents had complained about another employee sexually abusing their daughters.
Zalkin said nobody at the church reported the incidents to law enforcement or child protective services, which is required by law.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages.