The case is the second incident of charges of a sexual nature beingfiled against an area clergyman in recent months and may have opened upa larger discussion within the church community about the need for safespiritual care.
Arvin W. Schoep, 60, of Earlton, was chargedwith "forcible touch-ing of another's sexual/intimate parts" byLivingston State Police, August 4.
Mr. Schoep was the pastorof the First Reformed Church at 52 Green Street from 1999 to April 29,2006, when he was suspended from his pastoral duties in connection witha separate sexual misconduct matter, handled through the internalchurch disciplinary structure.
The current charge stemsfrom an incident on December 2, 2006 at about 6:30 p.m. on ColumbiaStreet in Hudson during Winter Walk, when the Reverend Joanna C.Tipple, pastor at the Livingston Memorial Church in Linlithgo, allegesthat Mr. Schoep hugged her inappropriately.
The formalcomplaint charges that Mr. Schoep "intentionally, knowingly andunlawfully rub[bed] in an up and down motion the right breast of saidcomplainant without her consent. Said action by the defendant diddegrade said complainant. All contrary to the statute in such case madeand provided."
The charge is a class A misdemeanor.
"A person is guilty of forcible touching when such personintentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly touches thesexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose ofdegrading or abusing such person; or for the purpose of gratifying theactor's sexual desire," according to the court information document.
Rev. Tipple was acquainted with Mr. Schoep in her professionalcapacity. She served on a church appointed committee assigned to see toMr. Schoep's pastoral care.
In her statement to StatePolice Investigator Carmen Martino, Rev. Tipple said that Mr. Schoep"was holding me for a long time, it was longer than a quick friendlyhug."
She had on a heavy winter coat, but felt pressure toher right breast, which she described as a rubbing motion, which Mr.Schoep "was doing during the hug."
Both Rev. Tipple's husband and Mr. Schoep's wife were present at the time, but Rev. Tipple told The Independent
in a phone interview that neither could see or were aware of what she alleges transpired.
In Mr. Schoep's statement to police, he said a sawhorse that waspart of a barricade was between Rev. Tipple and himself, "but wespontaneously hugged across the barricade. We had hugged before. Thehug was a bit awkward because Joanna did not turn to face me but kepther body perpendicular to mine.
"I was not conscious at anytime of touching her breast. With my wife at my side and her husbandimmediately behind her, touching her inappropriately is the last thingI would have thought of doing," Mr. Schoep said in his statement.
Initially in shock over the incident, Rev. Tipple told herhusband about the incident about two hours later and about a monthlater filed charges against him within the church.
Of thedelay, Rev. Tipple said Christmas was coming and as a pastor herself,there were many demands on her time and she didn't want to deal with it.
At the internal church trial conducted by the Classis ofColumbia-Greene, an official judicial body within the Reformed Churchin America, conducted May 26, 12 people believed he was guilty ascharged and 12 people believed he was not guilty. The deadlock did notresult in Mr. Schoep's ordination credentials being revoked, as Rev.Tipple hoped, but rather maintained him on the indefinitely suspendedstatus he had been since April 2006 after admitting to sexualmisconduct with a woman member of his congregation.
Thesuspension keeps him under church supervision, requires him to undergocounseling and to pay for his victim's counseling. "He is not just cutloose," said Gary Shaver, vice president of the First Reformed ChurchConsistory Board and a congregation member.
The situationthat resulted in their pastor's suspension came as a major "shock andblow to our church. We've been around since 1836 and never had anythinglike this happen," Mr. Shaver told The Independent
. "The church has a new pastor now and we're moving forward," he said.
Following the not-guilty ruling of the classis in her case, Rev.Tipple decided to take the matter to the State Police, recognizing that"we have consequences in our legal system."
"The bottom lineis what he did was illegal and reprehensible," she said, also voicingthe hope that her pursuit of charges will put an end to hisinappropriate behavior.
"This is my person, my dignity, it is a big deal," she said.
Michael Howard, Mr. Schoep's attorney, said last week that thechurch classis has a lower standard of proof than the public courtsystem and has already found his client not guilty. Though Mr. Howardsaid he advised Mr. Schoep not to comment on the case, the attorneysaid his client denies these charges.
Mr. Schoep is to appear in Hudson City Court on August 14 to answer the charge.
In the aftermath of the arrest of the Reverend Raymond Ethier,the priest at the Saint John Vianney Catholic parish, charged withpossession of child pornography May 30, the Reverend John Perry wrote aletter to the editor for the Hudson Interfaith Counsel, which appearedin the June 29 issue of The Independent
In it, hewrote that the Interfaith Council is "dedicated to ensuring that ourvarious places of worship, and our communities, are places of safetyfor all God's people, and most especially for all children."
Rev. Tipple responded in a letter that appeared July 24, in whichshe wrote, "We in the Protestant and other faiths have had far too manyopportunities to point our fingers at our Catholic brothers andneglected to face out own sin. It is much easier to look elsewhere atthe problems inherent in humanity than to take responsibility for own."
In the published letter, she recounted events surrounding Mr.Schoep's suspension without naming him, charging that the InterfaithCouncil, of which Mr. Schoep was a member, ignored his conduct. "And ina show of support for the perpetrating pastor, there was one or twomembers of the Interfaith Council who spoke out on his behalf evensuggesting that he could come preach in their congregations."
Reached for his comments on Rev. Tipple's observations, PastorJack Wilder of St. John's Lutheran Church in Hudson, president of thecouncil, responded by email, "I have consulted with other members ofthe Interfaith Council and they were also unaware that members of theCouncil are alleged to have supported the pastor in question in the waythat Pr. Tipple describes. We believe that this particular allegationmay be the result of a misunderstanding; at least one member of theCouncil invited the pastor in question to attend worship services athis congregation. That did not mean that he was inviting that pastor topreach or to act in any official capacity. We understand that theColumbia-Greene Classis did not bar this pastor from attending worship,although he has been barred from performing pastoral acts.
"The Interfaith Council itself did not undertake to support thepastor in question in the manner described by Pr. Tipple. If anymembers of the Council did so they acted on their own without thebacking of the Council. Therefore, I do not see that this situationnecessarily casts a pall over the Interfaith Council."
PastorWilder described the council as "a fellowship of local pastors and laypeople." He said it does not have authority over its members and leavesmatters of church discipline to the various "judicatories."
The council, as a fellowship, continues to "pray for the pastorin question, as well as those who have been affected by any actions onhis part."
He said the council also sent pastoral letters toSt. John Vianney Parish and Fr. Raymond Ethier and held a service ofhealing and reconciliation at St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Churchtownopen to the community.
In his e-mail, Pastor Wilder said thecouncil held a training workshop July 12 on clergy sexual abuse. Hesaid the council members would continue this type of training and haveagreed as a council "to seek professional training led by a qualifiedmember of the Samaritan Counseling Center in Albany."
Thecouncil continues to discuss clergy abuse at its meetings, he said,adding, "A number of us have plans to address the issue from thepulpit." To contact Diane Valden, e-mail dvalden@IndeNews.com.
for a listing of alternate locations.