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Pastor charged with sex felonies loses battle in lengthy case

Rick Iglesias, the former pastor at Pleasant Valley Church in Winona, Minnesota, is facing decades in prison over three felony charges related to claims he repeatedly had sex with a teen in his former church. The victim alleges repeated sexual abuse and rapes over three years.

Iglesias’ defense suffered a setback last month when a judge ruled that his confession to a fellow pastor will be allowed to be heard in court.

Iglesias served at Pleasant Valley from 1994 to 2014 before leaving to minister at Orchard Hill Church in Wexford, Pennsylvania.

Evidence suggests Iglesias did not alert leadership at Orchard Hill about his sexual relationship with a minor while serving at Pleasant Valley until 2019, when he confessed his past sexual sins to Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, a supervisor, fellow pastor at Orchard Hill, and former friend from seminary.

Bjorklund said Iglesias “acknowledged that he had been accused of being sexually involved with somebody. And, he told me who it was. And, more or less acknowledged that that was indeed true.”

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Then, in a later meeting between the two men, Bjorklund called the Winona Police Department to report the crime as Iglesias looked on.

Iglesias’ attorney sought to prevent Bjorklund from testifying in the case, citing Minnesota law’s priest-penitent privilege, which prohibits someone’s confidential conversations or counseling sessions with clergy to be used in criminal cases.

But Assistant Winona County Attorney Christina Galewski contended the meeting was primarily a business conversation between an employee and his supervisor, not a counseling session.

Last month, a judge agreed with Galewski, as the Winona Post reported:

Winona County District Court Judge Mary Leahy ruled on April 7 in favor of the prosecution. Not all communications with clergy are privileged, she noted, citing case law. The key legal questions, Leahy wrote, are: “(1) was the communication made to a minister serving in that very role as a minister, (2) whether the conversation was ever intended to be shared beyond the communicant and the minister and finally (3) whether the conversation was held for the purpose of getting spiritual help or support.”

Leahy ruled, “In this case the communication between the defendant and Bjorklund was not to seek out religious aid, comfort or advice. No request for such advice or assistance was ever made by the defendant. He did not go to Bjorklund’s private home to ‘unburden himself’ but instead to give notice to his boss that he had to resign his position with the church.”

Iglesias faces three counts of first-degree criminal sexual assault, including heightened charges because Iglesias was in a position of authority over the girl.

OCTOBER 13 UPDATE:  Iglesias pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in July 2021 and was sentenced to nine years in prison in October.

Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.