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Mount Kisco parishioners react to abuse charges


(Original publication: December 5, 2002)

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MOUNT KISCO Parishioners at the Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco yesterday were coming to grips with revelations that their former pastor was charged by the presbytery with sexually abusing eight boys.

Richard Farrell, 69, a church member, couldn't miss the headlines in newspapers or the stories on television over allegations against Jack Miller that the Hudson River Presbytery announced Tuesday.

"I can't comment on them because they're allegations," said Farrell, a former chairman of the church's board of trustees. "I do not condone the alleged actions, but I'm not about to turn my back on an individual, no matter who he or she is, who has been a friend."

The eight charges, unveiled at the presbytery's regional meeting at Webb Horton Memorial Presbyterian Church in Middletown, outline abuse of boys under 18. Among the allegations are that Miller invited a child into the shower with him, that he had oral sex with a minor on numerous occasions over two years and that he made inappropriate sexual remarks and propositions.

Miller resigned last month amid the allegations. Some of the former pastor's supporters, including Edward Manley, said they had thought that once Miller stepped down, the charges would have been kept under wraps.

"This whole thing is so upsetting," said Manley, 64, of Chappaqua. "I thought this whole thing would go to rest, and it hasn't."

Miller was removed as pastor in August over the allegations, the first of which was filed in March, according to the presbytery.

He wrote in a Nov. 9 resignation letter to his former flock that he decided he would step down to avoid a divisive church trial.

He also acknowledged his homosexuality in the letter.

Upon stepping down, Miller said he was going to continue to work for worthy causes. In 1982, he co-founded Lexington Center for Recovery, a substance-abuse program based in Mount Kisco.

Two years ago, he started Neighbors Link, a community center for low-income residents, which is also in Mount Kisco.

About a month ago, Miller resigned as president of Neighbors Link to become executive director of the center a job he'll start on Jan. 1, said Sheelah Hyland, the center's director.

He'll have more say in the day-to-day operations of Neighbors Link, including fund-raising and writing grant applications, she said.

Hyland said the public airing of the charges won't affect Miller's work.

"I don't really want to make any comment on that. That's his personal life," Hyland said. "He's a wonderful person. He's done a lot of good in the town of Mount Kisco and in a lot of other towns."

Elder Harriet Sandmeier, the stated clerk for the presbytery, read the charges again yesterday at the Mount Kisco church before parishioners who packed into a meeting room.

But before she could give her report, one man who said he'd already heard it at Webb Horton left the room, calling the report "a disgrace." Others filed out behind him.

"Perhaps you have asked, 'What about my son? What about my daughter?' " Sandmeier said after reading the charges.

Miller's lawyer, David Montgomery, took aim at the presbytery's judicial process, saying little was done to investigate the credibility of the former pastor's accusers.

"What's being aired here in this sacred space is unsubstantiated, unproven allegations," Montgomery said. "Some of them are true. Jack has admitted that. Many of them are not true."

The charges didn't say when the alleged abuse occurred, but Montgomery said they were more than 15 years old, meaning the allegations couldn't be used as the basis for criminal charges.

The reading of the charges means that the church's oversight of the matter is now finished, Sandmeier said.

"Miller would have been better off going to trial because what he tried to avoid happened anyway, and you only get one side of the issue," said Farrell, who criticized the Mount Kisco church leaders for keeping the congregation in the dark over the allegations for months.

Even though Miller, 58, a Pound Ridge resident, sidestepped a trial when he left the ministry, Sandmeier has said it was still her duty under church policies to report the matter to the presbytery, which easily passed a vote to disclose the charges. After she gave her presentation, she suggested that having the charges aired publicly could help start a healing process.

Miller had written in his Nov. 9 letter that he didn't want the allegations to harm a movement to defy a church provision that would keep gays and those having intimate relationships outside of marriage from holding leadership positions in the church.

"My reaction is very similar to many of the members very, very sad and (I) feel almost devastated by many aspects of the case," said church member Nathan Nahm, 63, of Chappaqua. "He admitted he did some inappropriate behavior. So he resigned after that. This publicity thing makes me even sadder."

Send e-mail to Sean Gorman




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