An associate pastor at a Springfield church has been charged with molesting a 4-year-old girl, Fairfax County police said yesterday.
Rafael Arteaga, 58, was arrested Monday night at his home, a small brick bungalow across the street from the rear parking lot of St. Mark's Lutheran Church, at 5800 Backlick Rd. He is being held without bond on a forcible sodomy charge, police spokeswoman Mary Mulrenan said.
The attack took place inside the church about 5 p.m. June 9, police said. Shortly before, Arteaga was chatting with the girl's 23-year-old mother at the church playground, and the girl asked for water, police said. Arteaga then offered to take her inside the church for a drink, police said.
Mulrenan said she did not know how long Arteaga and the girl were inside the church alone, but she said the "mother did think it was too long and began to walk toward the church" just as the pastor and the girl came out.
The next day, the girl told her mother the pastor had touched her inappropriately, Mulrenan said. The mother and daughter were not church members, she said.
Arteaga's arrest came one day after Gerald H. White, a 63-year-old deacon at Central Baptist Church in Montgomery County, was charged with taking sexually suggestive photographs of young girls.
Michael Taylor, a senior pastor at St. Mark's, said yesterday that the charges had saddened and shocked the church staff "beyond belief."
"We have no tolerance for sexual abuse or misconduct of any kind," Taylor said.
Taylor said Arteaga, a native of El Salvador who was hired for a Hispanic outreach ministry, has been a pastor at the church for nearly four years. He said Arteaga is married and has no children.
A woman who answered the door at Arteaga's home identified herself as his wife and said she did not know what had happened to her husband; she said she was left "guessing."
As reporters and television crews gathered outside the church, residents of a brick apartment complex across the street stood in groups, watching the scene under the shade of trees. Several expressed disbelief that Arteaga -- a fixture in the neighborhood whom most knew simply as Rafael or "the Hispanic pastor" -- had been arrested.
"He is very good," said Milagro Aguilar, 31, who was adamant that Arteaga could not have committed such a crime. "He has always been very respectful with me."
Aguilar, a Salvadoran immigrant, said Arteaga was a friendly man who helped her find a babysitter for her five small children and an employee for her housekeeping business. The pastor gave English and reading lessons to residents in their apartments, she said.
"I don't believe it, what they're accusing him of," Aguilar said. "He is very helpful. He helps Hispanics a lot."
She said she did not believe Arteaga could have committed such a crime and insisted that she would trust her children with him alone.
Taylor said the church was cooperating with police.
"We hold in prayer all those who have been affected and pray that God's healing is extended to anyone who has been injured," he said.