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Youth Director Gets 19+ Years for Abuse, Survivor’s Family Sues Church

The parents of a teenage girl who was sexually assaulted by a Florida youth pastor, are suing the youth pastor, members of church leadership, and the District Conference for negligence.

The plaintiffs seek $30,000 in damages against former Youth Pastor Ryan Walsh, Pastor Dan Morris, Executive Pastor Kenneth York, Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church, and the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church (AWFUMC).

In October, Walsh was sentenced to over 19 years in prison for lewd and lascivious battery after sending explicit messages and sexually assaulting a minor between October 2019 and February 2020.

The lawsuit claims Gulf Breeze and AWFUMC officials carelessly hired, trained, and supervised Walsh and eventually violated its policies and procedures.

The suit also accused religious institutions like Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church of attracting abusers, pedophiles, and child molesters looking to access children, claiming the defendants were aware of the attraction the church has on predators: “Instead of exercising due care and diligence to protect minors under these circumstances, Defendants Morris, York, Church, and Defendant Conference give its staff, including Defendant Walsh, complete discretion and freedom to have personal and private encounters with minors.”

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The family joined the church in 2019 to seek counseling and support from previous sexual abuse the minor plaintiff experienced in fourth grade. The statement claims the defendants were aware of prior abuse.

The suit also blames a long-standing friendship between church officials and Walsh for leadership’s initial reluctance to report the abuse, citing Morris thought of Walsh “like a son,” having known him since Walsh was 14 years old. Morris also officiated Walsh’s wedding and “never thought to question his actions until it was too late,” according to the report.

“These special relationships prevent Defendants from being objective and treating Defendant Walsh with ordinary and reasonable supervision,” it continued.

When Walsh eventually admitted to “felonious” touching in addition to sending explicit text messages that included telling the then-13-year-old, “I think I like younger girls because I feel like more of a man,” church officials reported him to the authorities.

The suit lists AWFUMC as responsible for the actions of its clergy, including Walsh’s supervisors (Morris and York), and calls for the complete and thorough implementation of mandated child protection policies at Gulf Breeze to prevent child sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct at the church.

The lawsuit questions leadership’s negligence of Walsh as he used multiple forms of social media on church devices to communicate with minor children without accountability or monitoring from Gulf Breeze or AWFUMC, stating, “They should have known that Walsh was sending inappropriate messages to the minor and other minors.”

The lawsuit was filed in Santa Rosa County, Florida, demanding a jury trial.

Jessica Eturralde

Jessica Eturralde is a military wife of 18 years and mother of three who serves as a freelance writer, TV host, and filmmaker. Bylines include Yahoo, Huffington Post, OC16TV.