Former Bradford County youth pastor charged with sexually abusing teenage girl

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TOWANDA, Pa. (WETM) – A former Bradford County youth pastor has been accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl more than 20 years ago during a church-sanctioned “engagement,” according to Pennsylvania Attorney General.

Robert Fenton, 52, is accused of abusing and sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl from 1996 to 1998 in Bradford County when he was 26. According to the announcement from the AG’s office, Fenton allegedly claimed that “God wanted the victim to be his bride” because of a vision he was having. The AG further explained that Fenton allegedly got approval from Abide in the Vine Church leaders to “engage” the girl to him “on the understanding that no sexual activity would occur.”

The alleged victim, now over 40, first spoke to police about the abuse in 2019, according to the criminal complaint published with the announcement. After the “engagement,” the victim said Fenton allegedly convinced her parents to take her out of public school so he could visit her at home. Fenton allegedly touched the girl’s genitals and forced her to touch him.

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In 1998, the victim said she and Fenton got engaged, at which point he made her perform oral sex on him, according to the affidavit.

After the marriage was annulled because Fenton allegedly caught pancreatitis, the relationship ended around August–September 1998. Fenton then allegedly told the girl that she had ruined her ministry before moving to Australia. The AG’s office said Fenton is a pastor at a church in Queensland, Australia.

After the AG’s office took over the investigation in July 2021, officers interviewed friends of the victim, members of the congregation and his parents. Her parents reportedly explained that they knew about it and had accepted Fenton’s engagement. They also said that at one point the church elders implemented a 6-month “no contact” period, during which Fenton and the girl could only write letters. However, the parents claimed that Fenton would “push the limits”.

The church pastor was reportedly unsupportive of the relationship when Fenton first explained his vision. However, the pastor’s son told the AG office that the girl’s family and Fenton pressured the pastor and compared the relationship to Mary and Joseph, with Mary being much younger. The pastor’s son said his father didn’t know the relationship was sexual.

Another of the alumni who was also a lawyer reportedly said that if the relationship happened he would call the police. The criminal complaint did not say whether this ultimately happened or not.

Fenton was charged with indecent assault of a person under the age of 16, involuntary deviant sexual acts with a person under the age of 16, aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors and legal sexual assault. The AG said his office would work with the US State Department and Department of Justice to try to extradite Fenton from Australia.

“The defendant used his power and authority in his religious community to regularly lie, manipulate and abuse a young girl in his community. I promised we would hold accountable anyone who abused children – and Robert Fenton is no exception,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Survivors live a lifetime of anguish and trauma trying to overcome the impact of abuse. I want survivors to know – we believe you and we won’t let predators get away with child molestation.

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