Presbytery Brings Charges Against Pastor Who Defended Victims
Pastor Steve Marusich claims the charges are revenge.
A former teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), who was critical of the way the Central Indiana Presbytery handled allegations brought against Dan Herron, is now facing seven charges and possible excommunication.
“The charges are a clear retaliation by [Teaching Elder John] Peoples and others as revenge for my seeking justice and speaking the truth in Central Indiana Presbytery since 2020,” said Pastor Steve Marusich, who denies all charges.
Marusich believes that complaints about Herron, a pastor from Indiana who was accused of sexually harassing several women, have been mishandled for years by presbytery leaders, who knew of them yet either ignored them or gave false assurances of “taking steps to correct” the issues.
“One of my chief takeaways from this whole thing has been that one of the problems in the PCA is that people are willing to have private conversations, but then when that information needs to come out, they don’t want to speak,” Marusich said.
Involvement in Herron Case
Marusich was involved early on in the case against Herron, complaining that the Central Indiana Presbytery was not following procedures laid out in the denomination’s Book of Church Order. He asked the denomination’s highest court, the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), to take up the matter.
The SJC agreed with Marusich and sent the case back to the Central Indiana Presbytery for correction.
In February 2021, Marusich filed charges against Herron for violations of the Fifth and Seventh Commandments and his ordination vows.
However, the next month, after being approached by various teaching and ruling elders about instituting a third-party investigation by a group like GRACE, Marusich agreed to rescind the charges. Under the denomination’s procedures, no independent investigation could be conducted if charges had already been filed, Marusich explained.
However, no independent GRACE investigation was ever instituted. Instead, the Central Indiana Presbytery adopted a motion offered by the accused Herron that formed a new investigating committee, including two members recommended by Herron.
In May 2021, the investigating committee presented a report indicating a “strong presumption of guilt” on six charges and recommending the presbytery proceed to trial. Josh Holowell, a teaching elder, was elected to be the prosecutor.
Holowell, however, resigned from his post as the prosecutor in February 2022, citing many issues, including the civil lawsuit Herron had filed against some of his accusers, and declaring he had “zero confidence that the CIP could adjudicate this trial fairly.”
“I have wrestled through this decision over and over again, because I believe justice for the accusers has been trampled time and time again,” Holowell wrote in his resignation letter.
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Ruling elder Dan Barber, who had been assisting in the case but is not an attorney, then became the prosecutor in the case. Witnesses to the trial say Herron was represented by Brent Huber, who is an attorney.
Herron’s trial lasted for 42 hours from November 15-19, 2022. The SJC exonerated Herron on all charges. Most of the verdict was a discussion of whether it was sinful for Herron to bring a civil defamation lawsuit against his accusers. Only two paragraphs discussed the charges against Herron for lying, sexual impropriety, and bullying, finding that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof.
While the trial was open to the public, anyone named as a witness had to leave the proceedings if one of the parties objected to their presence. Such was the case for Marusich, who only witnessed the first couple of hours of the trial before Herron’s defense objected to his presence.
According to Marusich, at least eight people he trusts have told him that he was openly accused of sin by witnesses at the trial. He has no way of defending himself because he can not get a copy of the trial transcript. He has requested it several times from Barber and the SJC, but has been denied.
“[T]he SJC voted to instruct the Stated Clerk’s office not to release the transcript or exhibits from the Herron trial without further instruction from the SJC,” attorney Jack Wilson wrote to Marusich in an email, adding that the transcription service expects to be paid for any copies of the transcript.
Marusich said he is willing to pay for a copy.
“For informational purposes, and without offering any advice or opinion, it seems logical that should [Central Indiana Presbytery] plan introduce portions of the transcript as evidence in any prosecution, [it] should provide any accused person with copies of those portions of the transcript in advance of the trial. Doing so would not violate the SJC’s decisions regarding the transcript,” Wilson added.
The lack of a trial transcript has resulted in other injustices, Marusich said. For example, several women from the Central Indiana Presbytery wrote a letter objecting to testimony given during the Herron trial that characterized them as protesting and being “forcibly removed” from a presbytery meeting, Marusich said.
A commission was formed and reported that the women were slandered by the testimony and were owed an apology. However, the presbytery failed to adopt the commission’s recommendation because it said it had no trial transcript by which to verify what was said. Barber, who has a copy of the trial transcript and was at the meeting, did not offer to provide it for clarification so the women’s reputation could be cleared, Marusich said.
Charges Against Marusich
A month after the conclusion of Herron’s trial, the charges were lodged against Marusich.
“In December 2022, a malicious prosecution was brought against me by a man, [Teaching Elder] John Peoples, who had not had any conversation with me for over 2 years,” Marusich wrote in a statement to MinistryWatch.
“Before the charges were brought, he neglected the duties of Matthew 18. After charges were brought, he has rejected all suggestions and attempts at mediation or reconciliation.”
Marusich is accused of slandering the Central Indiana Presbytery through his Twitter account and through a letter he sent in February 2022 to PCA elders outside the presbytery seeking intervention.
“Brothers, I am coming to you because I believe that my presbytery, Central Indiana Presbytery (CIP), is in crisis—a crisis that requires outside intervention,” he wrote. He laid out the concerns he had about the way Herron’s accusers had been treated, claiming those who were supposed to protect their interests had called them “people of low character and not to be believed or trusted.”
“Honestly, I do not believe that any woman could feel confident that she would be treated well or with dignity if she came forward to say an elder spoke in an inappropriate way to her or touched her in an inappropriate way,” he added.
The charges against Marusich also accuse him of revealing confidential church information to outside parties, “publicly undermining and seeking to usurp” the SJC, “refusing to follow proper Biblical channels,” using “intemperate” language on Twitter, and lying by claiming to be the prosecutor in the case of Central Indiana Presbytery vs. Herron.
The charges against Marusich include many references to his Twitter account, as varied as retweets of advocates like Aimee Byrd to comments about the proceedings in the presbytery to the retweet of a Calvin and Hobbes comic.
About the charges, Marusich said, “Some are lies that are the exact opposite of the truth, and some are so trivial that they would be comical were it not for their inclusion in such an evil scheme.”
Regarding the charge that he claimed to be the prosecutor, Marusich said it has been a well understood practice that the person bringing charges acts as the prosecutor. He said he interacted with witnesses, the accused and his attorney, until the presbytery appointed Holowell. After that, he ceased conducting any business as the presumed prosecutor.
Today, February 9, the Central Indiana Presbytery will try Marusich, but he won’t be present. Marusich does not believe he would receive a fair trial, nor does he recognize the PCA’s authority over him since he transferred his membership to his local church, Trinity Church of Brownsburg, Indiana, which voted in June 2023 to leave the PCA.
Neither the Central Indiana Presbytery nor the PCA Administrative Committee replied to our inquiry before the time of publication.
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