CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) – A major Charlotte church has acknowledged mishandling reports of abuse made in the early 1990s by teenagers who alleged a volunteer youth pastor sexually assaulted them.
The admission by current church leaders comes decades after the abuse was first reported and nearly two years after multiple victims re-approached the church to reconcile what happened to them and were, at first, turned away.
Andy Gathings was one of those people.
Gathings, who spoke publicly about the abuse he suffered for the first time in an interview with WBTV, said he was assaulted by a man named David Wood.
Wood served as a volunteer youth leader at Christ Covenant Church in Charlotte in the early 1990’s.
“It was calculated the way he got to the kids,” Gathings recalled. “There were a lot of things that he did to sort of groom me.”
Gathings didn’t detail the specific acts he said Wood did to sexually assault him during his interview. But he did share those details with police in 2017.
Wood was charged with two counts of indecent liberties with a child as a result of Gathing’s complaint.
Those charges were dismissed in February because an interview Gathings gave police left unclear whether he was 15 or 16 at the time of the assault. The age of consent is 16 in North Carolina.
But Wood was already a registered sex offender before Gathings’ complaint. He was convicted in 2005 on one count of indecent liberties with a child.
The charge stemmed from a report made by a second man who said he was abused as a teenager by Wood in the early 1990s while Wood was a volunteer youth pastor at Christ Covenant Church.
An attorney for Wood told WBTV his client did not wish to answer questions or provide a comment for this story.
Similarly, Christ Covenant Church’s current pastor, Kevin DeYoung—who joined the church as pastor in spring 2017—refused multiple requests for an interview with WBTV.
Instead, DeYoung sent a statement, in which he acknowledged credible reports of sexual abuse had been made to church leadership in the 1990s.
“We BELIEVE THESE MEN, and do not doubt the abuse they have alleged. David Wood was never a member of Christ Covenant, and the abuse did not take place at any Christ Covenant events. Nevertheless, we believe David Wood took advantage of these young men through connections he made while a volunteer at Christ Covenant,” DeYoung’s statement said in part.
“There are things we could say to mitigate our responsibility, but the fact remains that this happened on our watch and for that we are horrified. David Wood was brought in to work with youth at the church. He violated our misplaced trust and, much worse, abused those he was given the opportunity to lead,” the statement continued.
DeYoung addressed the situation at a meeting with the church’s congregation in January.
“In 1997, a few years after the abuse took place, the mother of one of the victims told a Christ Covenant staff member what had happened. This staff member who has not been with our church for many years took the situation seriously and intervened in meaningful ways. He did not, however, report the allegations to criminal authorities. That was a serious mistake. We do not excuse it,” DeYoung told the church’s member, according to a recording of the address obtained by WBTV.
At the end of the speech, DeYoung asked the congregation to not speak with reporters about the information and to direct any other reports of assault by Dave Wood to him. He never mentioned calling police.
“If, however, you know of people who have been affected by David Wood from the 1990s, we want to know about it,” he said.
For Gathings, the move to acknowledge the reported abuse was welcome but not enough to repair the damage that had been done over more than two decades.
“They’re accepting culpability without totally understanding what is really going on here,” Gathings said.
“Do you think the church has fully taken accountability for the role it played in what happened to you and others?” a WBTV reporter asked.
“No, I think that this was covered up for years,” Gathings said. “I think that there were times when families could have been contacted, when there were no longer allegations against the youth pastor—that he was actually convicted—I think more could have been done then.”
Gathings said he chose to speak publicly as an abuse survivor in hopes of giving others the courage to come forward. He said speaking about what happened to him is tough, even with the passage of time.
Wood worked either on staff or as a volunteer at several other large Charlotte-area churches after he left Christ Covenant.
Gathings said Wood used faith to grow close to victims in order to take advantage of them.
“The person who brought me to know the lord was also the one who showed me the worst evil that I’ve known in my life,” he said.