A pastor at a Carlsbad church accused of repeatedly molesting a child over the course of about a year pleaded not guilty in court Friday.
The prosecutor said Matthew Tague, 43, only turned himself in because his wife caught him abusing the young girl.
Tague of San Marcos was arraigned at the North County Regional Center. It was his first court appearance.
"This is very shocking to me," said Karen Graham, who says the pastor mentored her son. "It's like losing a close friend to my son, to my family. To have a man of this stature do something like that, it's just unbelievable."
Tague, a pastor at the North Coast Calvary Chapel, was arrested Wednesday on 14 counts of lewd and lascivious acts on one minor victim. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSO) said Tague called deputies on Monday and reported the crimes himself.
He’s being held at the Vista Detention Facility on $1.9 million bail. Tague faces more than a hundred years in prison if convicted.
The prosecutor said Tague molested a 12-year-old girl for a year. According to SDSO investigators, Tague’s victim was allegedly molested by force multiple times.
SDSO Lt. Karen Stubkjaer said she could not disclose details Wednesday on the nature of the relationship between the pastor and his victim.
Stubkjaer confirmed the allegations are not related to Tague’s position at the church.
A neighbor of the suspect, Lon Plourde, said the allegations are shocking and disturbing. He said Tague is a father of two grown children and three much younger adopted children.
The neighbor said that, to him, nothing seemed amiss at the Tague household. Plourde recalled always seeing Tague playing outside with his kids. He said the children all seemed very happy, too.
Neighbor Jim Kealing, who has lived near Tague for about a year, also said the suspect seemed like a devoted father.
"I see him all the time, in the cul-de-sac, playing basketball, watching their kids riding their bikes, interacting with the neighbors," he said. "It's just one of those things that you just can't believe happens to someone like that, he's the ideal type of neighbor -- friendly, interacts, is concerned about his kids. [He's] just a nice, decent guy."
North Coast Calvary Chapel said Tague has been terminated from his job there. The church released this statement on Wednesday:
"We are deeply grieved to share that early this week we learned that a pastor at North Coast Calvary Chapel, Matthew Tague, was reported to have acted inappropriately with a minor, off church property, and outside of church ministry activities. When our staff learned of the allegations, we immediately reported theMo accusation to our Sherriff’s Department and terminated Mr. Tague’s employment.
On Wednesday, May 31, Mr. Tague was arrested on suspicion of the offense. The investigation of the accusation is now in the hands of law enforcement. We ask you to please pray for the victim, as well as the family involved in this tragic matter. Please pray for law enforcement as they determine the facts. We also ask you to pray for justice and restorative healing to take place for all involved. We are utterly heartbroken by these events.
We have strict requirements and procedures in place for hiring pastors and staff including professional background checks and exhaustive interviews. In this case, Mr. Tague had no previous record of arrest or criminal charges. It goes without saying that we are cooperating fully with law enforcement."
Rancho del Rey Church in Carlsbad, where Tague used to preside, also released a statement via Facebook. It reads, in part:
We are deeply saddened to learn that former RdR pastor, Matthew Tague, was arrested on charges pertaining to inappropriate acts with a minor. Mr. Tague has not been an employee of RdR Christian Church since August 2014 when he moved his pastoral duties to another church in Carlsbad. According to the Sherriff’s Department, these alleged actions took place off church property and outside of church ministry activities within the last 12 months. The investigation is being handled by law enforcement.
We ask that you please pray for the victim, and the family involved in this tragic matter. Please pray for law enforcement personnel as they seek to determine the facts and see that justice is served to all involved. Please pray for healing and restoration to take place for the many people affected.
The investigation is ongoing. The SDSO said there’s no indication of additional victims in this case.