Home > Current Events > local youth minister arrested for child pornography, also fired

local youth minister arrested for child pornography, also fired

I happened to be in Los Alamos, New Mexico yesterday and picked up a copy of the local paper where the front page headline read “Youth pastor fired for prior sex convictions.” It turned out to be the third article about the arrest and firing of local youth minister Matthew Nichols, who had until recently served as youth pastor of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA):

Each of these is a fairly by-the-numbers straight reporting piece where a local journalist writes about a local story on the basis of a police or court report and a couple of interviews. The barest version of the story is that America Online reported to the Federal government that child pornography was being sent from a personal email account from a local church. Investigators seized a computer from the church and found sufficient evidence to arrest the youth pastor.

The church kept him on paid leave for more than a month while he was denied bond. The church had hired an unnamed company to do a background check before hiring him as a youth pastor. He had also passed a previous background check before serving as a teacher in a local school. When the story first broke and the church held an informational meeting the response from the people who attended the church was mostly questions about when the youth pastor would be back serving at the church again.

The youth pastor had been convicted of sexual offenses involving minors in 1980 in Pennsylvania, but prior background checks had failed to uncover these convictions. The church fired him recently, making it clear that he was being fired for failing to mention his previous convictions during the interview process at the church.

For the record, I don’t blame the church for keeping him on paid leave for a period of time; the only thing that troubles me is the fact that the background check, apparently done in 2003, failed to turn up a 23-year-old conviction in another state. I have no idea whether it’s reasonable to expect them to find a conviction that old.

I am a little surprised that none of the articles mention the local church consulting with ELCA officials or bringing in a situation team from the denomination to deal with this case. Cleaning up difficult cases like this is something denominational churches are supposed to do better than independent churches.

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  1. Jordan
    August 19, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    From my knowledge of the system, only felony convictions will appear on your record if it’s done in the state where they were committed. It could only be my state like that, but that’s my $.02.

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