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Ex-Sutton pastor charged with rape of girl from church

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Emilie Astell
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF


WORCESTER-
A former pastor at the First Congregational Church of Sutton who now heads a church in Ohio has been indicted here on charges of unnatural rape of a child and posing a child in a state of nudity.

Andrew J. Bierkan, 54, with a last known address of 5361 Desertgold Drive, Colerain, Ohio, resigned from the First Congregational Church in 1992 after four women accused him of sexual harassment and ministerial misconduct.

He is now pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Cincinnati, according to Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte.

Accusations made by the four women did not result in criminal charges, Mr. Conte said.

The indictments, issued by a Worcester County grand jury, relate to incidents that allegedly took place between 1989 and 1992 at First Congregational involving a female under the age of 14. The alleged victim is now an adult, according to Mr. Conte.

The child did not complain at the time, Mr. Conte said, but came forward in March 2002.

"We've been working on this for a year and four months with the Sutton police," Mr. Conte said yesterday. "Sutton police did an outstanding job."

Sutton Police Chief John Hebert said the investigation is ongoing.

The Rev. Bierkan is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 16 in Superior Court. If he does not show up in court, Mr. Conte said, a summons would be issued for his arrest.

Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey T. Travers, of the district attorney's child abuse unit, is prosecuting the case.

In most circumstances, incidents from the past fall under the statue of limitations, which extends 15 years beyond the 16th birthday of the alleged victim, Mr. Conte said. Because Rev. Bierkan left the state, the statute does not apply, he added.

A woman who answered the telephone yesterday at St. Paul, referred all questions to Rev. Bierkan. Messages left for him at the church and at his home were not returned.

In May 1992, the four women who filed complaints against Rev. Bierkan aired their grievances at a public meeting at First Congregational.

The complaints involved inappropriate counseling, sexual harassment, unequal ministry and breach of trust regarding an inappropriate picture taken at a youth group outing and divulging confidences of parishioners Rev. Bierkan counseled.

Rev. Bierkan, who urged the congregation to discuss the claims, called for understanding and healing within the church during his final sermon at First Congregational.

He acknowledged at the time that problems began with his "extremely poor handling of a pastoral counseling relationship in 1979" and culminated with a picture of a female Pilgrim Fellowship member that embarrassed her and others.

Rev. Bierkan said in an earlier interview that he resigned partially because of the libelous rumors that ripped through the community, destroying any chance for restored trust and reconciliation.

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