Robert Fenton then allegedly got approval from the leaders at Abide in the Vine Church to "betroth" the teen girl to him "with an understanding that no sexual activity would occur."
A former youth pastor in Bradford County somehow convinced his church to have a 14-year-old girl betrothed to him. Now, over 20 years later, he is being accused of sexually assaulting the then-teenager. According to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, 52-year-old Robert Fenton has been charged for sexually abusing and assaulting the 14-year-old from 1996 to 1998 when he was 26. Fenton, who used to be a pastor at the Vine Church, allegedly claimed that "God wanted the victim to be his spouse" after having a vision, reports ABC27.
Fenton then allegedly got approval from the leaders at Abide in the Vine Church to "betroth" the teen girl to him "with an understanding that no sexual activity would occur." But the alleged victim, who is now 40, has spoken out about the abuse she suffered at the hands of the former pastor.
Per the criminal complaint released with the announcement, the woman first reported the abuse to police in 2019. She revealed that after the "betrothal" Fenton allegedly convinced her parents to take her out of public school just so he could visit her at home. He then allegedly touched her genitals and made her touch him.
He's got the classic look of a pedophile.— Tom Williams (@tommyboy0690) May 4, 2022
PA Pastor Convinced Church To Let 14-Year-Old Girl Get 'Betrothed' To Him Because 'God Wanted' It https://t.co/WYKrPsjTMS
The affidavit revealed that Fenton got engaged to her in 1998 and at that point he allegedly made her perform oral sex on him. However, Fenton's plans of marriage fell through around August-September 1998 as he reportedly got pancreatitis. He then moved to Australia before allegedly blaming the teenager for ruining his ministry. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office revealed that Fenton is currently a paster at a church in Queensland, Australia.
Officers with the AG’s office began interviewing friends and family of the victim as well as congregation members after taking over the investigation in July 2021. In the due course, they learned that the girl's parents were aware of Fenton’s betrothal plans and had agreed to it. At one point, they said, the church elders even set up a 6-month "no contact" period" where the two could only write letters to each other but her parents claimed that he would "push the boundaries."
Apparently, the pastor of the church did not support the relationship when Fenton first approached him with his vision. However, he ultimately agreed to it after the girl's family and Fenton pressured him and compared their marriage to that of Joseph and Mary, explained the pastor's son, who also noted that his father wasn't aware of the sexual nature of their relationship.
There was another elder who allegedly warned he would inform the cops if the relationship happened. It's not clear if that elder, who was an attorney, followed through with his threat. Now, Fenton is facing charges of Indecent Assault of a Person under 16, Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercouse with a Person Under 16, Aggravated Indecent Assault, Corruption of Minors, and Statutory Sexual Assault.
Authorities are now working with the U.S. State Department and Department of Justice to try to extradite the man from Australia. "The defendant used his power and authority in his religious community to lie, manipulate, and regularly abuse a young girl in his community. I promised we would hold anyone who was abusing children accountable – and Robert Fenton is no exception," assured Attorney General Shapiro.
"Survivors experience a lifetime of anguish and trauma trying to overcome the impact of abuse. I want survivors to know – we believe you, and we will not let predators get away with the sexual assault of children," he added.
Cover image source: YouTube Screenshot | WETM 18 News