Irving church congregation kept silent about child abuse for six years

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Nearly 100 members of the Irving Church of Christ knew for six years that a former parishioner had sexually abused a teenage boy, but they didn’t report the crime to the police. On Wednesday, Shawn Douglas Risener was convicted of the crime.

Risener, 48, faces up to 20 years in prison on each of six counts of indecency with a child by contact, after a jury convicted him following just 15 minutes of deliberation, the Waco Tribune reported.

Two victims told the jury that Risener befriended them in the mid-1990s when they all attended a Church of Christ in McGregor. The victims were teenagers and Risener was a graduate student at Baylor University.

One of the victims said Risener began abusing him when he was 14, while Risener was living at his best friend’s house. The sexual abuse occurred dozens of times over two years, the victim told the jury. 

In 2013, that victim said he contacted leaders of the Irving Church of Christ, which Risener then attended, to report what Risener had done years earlier, assuming “the church would handle it.” After learning the church had not reported Risener, the victim in 2017 emailed the superintendent of Irving schools, where Risener was then working as dean of the Jack E. Singley Academy.

“I felt like if someone messed with boys that age, they should not be around children,” he told the jury, according to the newspaper. 

The school system suspended Risener and reported the allegations to police.

James Crouch, minister of the Irving Church of Christ, said during testimony that the first victim contacted him and said he didn’t want to press charges but asked “that Shawn make a statement to the church stating what he had done.”

Crouch said Risener admitted to the abuse.

“He wasn’t happy about it, but he said he would make a statement to the church with the understanding that the victim would not file charges,” Crouch told the jury.

Crouch told the jury he was not aware it was a crime to fail to report child abuse, which has no statute of limitations.

Bruce Bailey, an elder at the church, told the Tribune that the congregation “just wanted him to get right the Lord.”

“It didn’t have anything to do with criminality,” he said of Risener. “It was more spiritual guidance.”

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