HAMMOND, Ind. (CBS) – A former Hammond pastor accused of taking an underage girl across state lines to have sex told her their affair was not wrong, and was actually what Jesus Christ wanted.
Former First Baptist Church of Hammond pastor Dr. Jack Schaap has pleaded guilty to taking the girl to Illinois and Michigan last year for a sexual relationship. The girl was 16 years old when the sexual relationship started.
Schaap was charged with one count of transporting a minor across state lines to engage in criminal sexual activity. The church removed him as pastor after he was charged last summer.
In their sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors revealed the girl asked him if what they were doing was wrong, but he said no, and wrote her a letter saying Christ wanted them to get married – although Schaap is already married.
“In our ‘fantasy talk,’ you have affectionately spoken of being ‘my wife.’ That is exactly what Christ desires for us. He wants to marry us + become eternal lovers!” Schaap wrote, in a letter prosecutors included in their court filings in the case.
Prosecutors also included letters from the victim, who has been undergoing psychological treatment to help her cope with the situation, and her feelings for Schaap.
“He used his power, influence and charisma as pastor to make me feel safe. He told me I was special, that he loved me, and that he wanted to marry me. He told me that I was his precious gift from God. He is so twisted to have lied to me and manipulated me,” she wrote.
She also wrote that she didn’t know what they were doing was wrong, because he made her believe it was “right in the eyes of God.
“His lies and deception made me feel closer to him and to God,” she wrote.
The victim also wrote a letter directly to Schaap, which prosecutors also included in their filing.
“I didn’t ask for this to happen. I didn’t want this. You did. I don’t want to feel sad, ashamed or hurt anymore. I want things to be normal again. But I do get up and go on with my life no matter how hard it is. I know that I am strong enough to handle it. This has majorly affected my life but it hasn’t ruined it. I’m going to get through this and grow from it,” she wrote.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys are asking a judge to sentence him to the minimum of 10 years in prison, in part because his guilty plea spared the expense of a trial, and made it unnecessary for the victim to testify about the abuse.
However, federal judges are not bound by sentencing recommendations in plea agreements.
In urging the judge to stick to the 10 year recommendation, defense attorneys cited Schaap’s years of service as pastor, and his work for the community.
“While serving as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dr. Schaap committed his entire life to the service of his local community as well as to the world at large,” defense attorneys wrote.
They noted he developed faith-based drug abuse programs, services for the homeless and elderly, academic programs for local schools, and other community programs.
“Over the years, Dr. Schaap has personally raised over $100 million dollars to support such programs. His works have had an extraordinary impact not only locally, but on a national and international level as well,” defense attorneys wrote.
They also noted he has no prior criminal record, and said his sexual relationship with the victim was aberrant to the balance of his life. They blamed the relationship in part on “extreme stress, exhaustion, depression, burn-out, and several other medical maladies.”
“Unfortunately, for a four-week period during the summer of 2012, he acted in a manner contrary to the entire balance of his life by engaging in sexual activity with a young woman with whom he had only recently come to counsel,” the defense wrote.
But prosecutors said any stress Schaap might have been suffering at the time should not be a factor in sentencing.
“Many people – if not most people – deal with extreme stress, exhaustion, depression and even burn-out at some point or another in their lives. If the presence of a temporary ailment during the commission of a crime justified leniency at sentencing, there would be no end to the tales of woe presented to this Court,” they wrote.
Prosecutors said Schaap could have stepped down from the church at any time if he was feeling exhausted or burned out due to his job.
“Rather than stress, exhaustion, depression or medical maladies causing Defendant’s criminal conduct, the findings of the government’s investigation suggest that it was lust, hubris and poor judgment that prompted Defendant’s much-deserved fall from grace,” prosecutors wrote.
Schaap’s attorneys claimed he was working 100-hour weeks at the time of the affair, but prosecutors countered the only way that was possible would be “if he’s counting the many hours he dedicated to grooming and sexually abusing the victim.”