A Bethel church has been accused in a lawsuit of turning a blind eye to sexual assaults on young girls by its former youth minister. In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in state Superior Court in Danbury, the family of a girl says leaders of the Walnut Hill Community Church allowed Matthew Anastasia to be in a position where he could get close to girls even though he had been arrested for harming one. “The minor plaintiff and her family looked to the church as a safe place to worship and find spiritual peace and instead a 13-year-old girl was deceived and harmed,” said lawyer, with the Bridgeport law firm Tremont Sheldon P.C., who is representing the family. Church officials did not immediately return calls and emails for comment. Anastasia’s mother, Janice, is the Children’s Ministry Team coordinator for Walnut Hill, and his father, James, had served as a church elder. Both are named as defendants.
In July 2011, Anastasia was sentenced to one year in prison and five years’ probation after pleading guilty to fourth-degree sexual assault, risk of injury to a minor and unlawful restraint for assaults against the girl in 2009.At the time, he was on probation for forcing a 16-year-old girl to touch his genitals while parked in 2008. Anastasia refused to drive the girl home or let her out of the car until she complied, the warrant affidavit in that case states.Despite the 2008 crime and other allegations, the lawsuit states the church allowed Anastasia to remain in his position.All of the 2009 encounters occurred during church services, according to both Anastasia and the teen, court records show.The girl told police Anastasia “touched my private parts over my clothing, he tried to go further, and I told him I didn’t want to at all,” she said in her statement. “Matt tried to take my pants down.”Anastasia also sent the girl a photograph of his genitals as well as a video of him touching himself, court documents state.”I cut off the romantic involvement because morally, it’s kind of sick and twisted,” Anastasia told police, according to the affidavit.Last July Anastasia was arrested and charged with third-degree assault, disorderly conduct and violating a protective order.State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III declined to comment on a pending case, but police sources said the arrest involved a domestic violence incident with a girlfriend.By Dan Tepfer, CT Post.