Minnesota Lutherans demand change following pastor sex scandal

Darwin Schauer worked for eight years as a lay pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lake George, Minnesota, a small community southwest of Bemidji. He did so despite the fact that district leaders of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod knew he was convicted in 1983 of sexual abuse of a minor.

Schauer, 70, retired in 2008, but continued to fill in as a minister at Trinity up until early March, when he was arrested and charged with 15 counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Now, the ordained pastor who replaced Schauer, the Rev. Don Kirchner, is demanding a shakeup of the Missouri Synod's leadership in response to the fact church officials tolerated a sex offender continuing to work in a leadership position.

Blogging on Steadfast Lutherans, Kirchner writes that "in 1983, [Schauer] forfeited his right to spiritual leadership of a parish or school, [but] unfortunately, District officials at the time were negligent in their responsibility."

"Schauer's arrest in March 2012 for criminal sexual conduct serves to emphasize the need for better checks and balances in the LCMS of its commissioned and ordained ministers," he adds.

Another minister argues on the site that "a man who is a convicted sex offender has no place on any church's roster of church workers," while another writes that "anyone who found out about that should have acted immediately to suspend him and have him removed from the roster."

A report from Detroit Lakes-Online speculates that the uproar could cost LCMS district president Don Fondow his job during this week's LCMS convention in Alexandria. Fondow's position is up for re-election.

The 2.4-million-member LCMS, based in St. Louis, is the second-largest Lutheran denomination in America. It has a reputation for being more conservative than the 4.3-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Darwin's story shows that sex scandals aren't the sole province of the Catholic Church. While the Catholic Church's leadership has taken tons of heat over the years for sweeping child sexual abuse under the rug, it's heartening to see that local Lutheran pastors won't tolerate similar behavior from their leadership.

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