Willow Creek Community Church agreed to pay more than $3 million to settle lawsuits over the sexual abuse of two developmentally disabled boys by a church volunteer, court records show.
The second and largest of the settlements, for $1.75 million, was made in February, before the Tribune revealed unrelated claims that the evangelical megachurch’s founder, the Rev. Bill Hybels, engaged in inappropriate conduct with women, eventually leading to his early retirement and, this month, the resignation of the church’s two leading pastors and its entire board of elders.
The influential South Barrington church also agreed last year to pay $1.5 million to another victim of former volunteer Robert Sobczak Jr.
Sobczak, now 24, is serving a seven-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2014 to sexually abusing an 8-year-old boy with special needs at the church and an older boy who was not connected to Willow Creek. In 2013, Sobczak pleaded guilty to sexually abusing another disabled boy, around age 9, at the church, and initially received probation in that case.
The civil lawsuits filed against the church by the families of the two younger boys, identified by the pseudonyms Jack Roe and John Doe, claim Sobczak abused one of the boys repeatedly, and that the church should have acted on warning signs before he molested his second victim.
Willow Creek did not directly address questions about the settlements, but issued a written statement calling the experience “heartbreaking.”
“Since these incidents occurred,” the statement read, “we have worked with law enforcement and security experts to learn how this happened and how we can ensure it never happens again.”
Despite the church agreeing to the financial payouts, the John Doe settlement says Willow Creek “has denied and continues to deny all material allegations of negligence and damages in this case.”
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune