***WARNING: Story contains details of a sexual assault case which may not be suitable for all readers. Discretion is advised.***
A Kentucky church is facing tough questions from the local community after an investigation by a local TV station found that the church employs a convicted sex offender.
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Now the pastor of Truth Apostolic Church in Madisonville is defending his decision to hire the man – but his comments, specifically those suggesting that the woman the man was convicted of sexually assaulting bore some responsibility for the attack, are coming under fire.
The story came to light when NBC affiliate WFIE received several anonymous tips that a convicted sex offender was working at the local church.
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Their investigation revealed that Thomas Hopper, working with the church’s outreach ministry staff, was convicted of rape and sodomy in the early 1990s. According to court documents, the victim, a 13-year-old girl, said Hopper held a razor blade to her throat before he sexually assaulted her.
He was released after serving 10 years in prison, but would be arrested multiple times in the early 2000s for a string of criminal violations.
WFIE interviewed Hopper in prison in 2003 after he was arrested for stalking. During the interview, he admitted that his criminal past was shocking but said he believed that “he still had a future” and that he was “doing what he was supposed to be doing.”
Hopper is currently in charge of the church’s care ministry, described as a “team of zealous volunteers who devote their time and energy in compelling others to come to [church],” according to a post on the church’s official website.
There’s no mention of Hopper’s criminal past or his many years in jail on his official bio page, aside from a reference to “years of drug abuse” and “other worldly addictions.”
It does mention that Hopper has been happily married since 2010 to a woman he met through the church, and who is also listed as a director of the care ministry. Hopper has also delivered sermons at the church, several of which were recorded on video.
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Pastor Michael Orten defended his decision to hire Hopper as being a reflection of Jesus’ message of forgiveness and acceptance.
“Yep, that’s what he done, most certainly,” Orten said in a phone interview. “But he was mad and angry, both of them were on drugs. Yeah, that’s still in his past.”
Orten then compared Hopper’s crime to stealing a piece of candy when you’re a small child, before seeming to at least partially assign responsibility for the rape to the victim.
“This is a situation, if that girls chooses…it takes two to tango, OK?” Orten said. “So if that girl chooses to sleep with him, she’s just as guilty as he is.”
“I was very upset,” one church attendee, who declined to show her face, told WFIE. “Because I had children, and I was not made aware [of Hopper’s past]…All they would tell me is ‘God has changed him.’”
The church has come under increasing fire since the story ran in local media earlier this week. Their website has been pulled down, and a post on the church Facebook page asks church members to remove themselves from Facebook entirely “until this issue is solved.”
“Do not comment or feed into the mess that the devil is creating. Leave it alone, let it be! Let’s not tag others in it either,” the post reads.
According to the Kentucky Sex Offender Registry office, the only restriction Hopper faces today is a requirement to obtain permission before going into school property.