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Suit accuses Sovereign Grace Ministries of covering up alleged child sexual abuse

A Montgomery County Circuit Court lawsuit accuses past and current leaders of a 100-church evangelical denomination of covering up sexual abuse of minors, forcing small children to “forgive” abusers and ostracizing families who wouldn’t hide the alleged crimes.

The lawsuit filed Friday adds more accusers and more accused to a complaint filed last fall against Sovereign Grace Ministries, a movement founded in the 1970s in Gaithersburg. Among those named now is co-founder Larry Tomczak, who was a key figure in the movement’s early years but split from it bitterly in the 1990s.

Eight alleged victims are named. Tomczak is the only alleged abuser named. He is accused of forcing a victim over a period of 25 years to strip “against her will” and assaulting her .

Tomczak became well-known with Sovereign Grace leader C.J. Mahaney years ago for launching what is now a thriving trend of neo-Calvinism. Neo-Calvinism teaches that people are steeped in sin and need strict spiritual oversight.

Tomczak is a pastor in Tennessee. Mahaney moved Sovereign Grace’s headquarters last year from Gaithersburg to Kentucky amid controversy within the churches over his leadership.

The movement’s flagship church, Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, became independent a few weeks ago after public disagreements over views of pastoral authority.

Tomczak said his family experienced “spiritual abuse” decades ago, at the hands of other clergy who publicly criticized his actions. In a Post story in 2011 about rifts in the Sovereign Grace movement, he called for more openness and contrition about behavior within the group.

In an e-mail Monday, Tomczak said he “had no participation or involvement in these areas that were cited” and plans to file a motion to remove his name from the suit.

Sovereign Grace spokesman Tommy Hill said the abuse of a child is “reprehensible and evil. We ask for patience as we carefully review and investigate these new allegations. We continue to pray for all those affected by this lawsuit,” he said in an e-mail.

The suit names Sovereign Grace churches and schools in Fairfax County and Gaithersburg, including Covenant Life. It also names various leaders of the movement and accuses them of covering up the alleged crimes.

“Defendants failed to report known incidences of sexual predation to law enforcement, encouraged parents to refrain from reporting the assaults to law enforcement, and interposed themselves between the parents of the victims and law enforcement in order to mislead law enforcement into believing parents had “forgiven” those who preyed on their children,” the complaint says.

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.

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