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Retired Lutheran pastor accused of inappropriate behavior

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG A recently retired Lutheran pastor may no longer minister in any capacity in the wake of allegations of inappropriate behavior with female parishioners, his bishop said.

About the same time the Rev. Bruce Wilder left his 400-member congregation in March, multiple female church members came forward with accusations, said Bishop Edward R. Benoway of the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

"The behaviors contained in the allegations include inappropriate hugging, kissing on the lips, fondling of the breasts and genital sexual contact," Benoway told the congregation at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in a letter dated Tuesday.

An allegation concerning a girl was passed on the to St. Petersburg Police Department which is investigating, Benoway said Friday.

In the letter, Benoway said the council of the synod voted to deny Wilder, 65, retired roster status which allows retired pastors to continue serving, perhaps at understaffed congregations.

Wilder will receive his pension benefits but won't be allowed to perform religious duties.

Benoway said Wilder denied the allegations and is believed to have left the area. He had been at St. Andrew for five years and served a congregation in Virginia for the previous four years where there had been no complaints, the bishop said.

Florida-Bahamas Synod oversees 220 congregations in Florida and one in the Bahamas, Benoway said.

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