Pastor speaks out after sex offender accused of lewd act at church


Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 8:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 8:19 p.m.

The pastor of a local church where a registered sex offender allegedly exposed himself to a boy has a different account of the incident than what has been reported.

The Rev. Max Wilkins, pastor of The Family Church at 2022 SW 122nd St., said on Monday that the church has been holding a weekly program called Celebrate Recovery, which is a Christian-based program designed to help individuals deal with addiction, depression and other issues, when the incident occurred.

“There is no program for sexual offenders meeting at the church right now,” he said, adding that there was a group in the past, but they have not met in months and were always highly supervised and kept separate from children.

Justin Hardy, 19, is accused of exposing himself to a boy in a bathroom at the church on Friday night. A registered sex offender, Hardy is being held without bond at the Alachua County jail.

According to the police report, Hardy was playing video games with some youths when he and the boy went to the bathroom. He exposed himself to the boy, who turned away. Hardy then pulled up his pants and told the boy not to tell anyone as they left the bathroom.

Wilkins said he didn't recall whether Hardy and the boy were playing video games, but if they were, it was not an organized activity.

Wilkins said Hardy had not participated in the sex offenders group when it existed, and he occasionally attended the Celebrate Recovery meetings.

Wilkins said the weekly Celebrate Recovery gatherings begin with a meal, and some participants bring their children. These children have a separate ministry program to attend while the adults meet after the meal.

On Friday, Wilkins said, Hardy attended only for the meal and intended to leave for work afterward.

Before Hardy left, the mother of the victim asked Hardy to walk her son to the building where the children's ministry was. It was en route to the other building, Wilkins said, that the alleged lewd incident occurred.

“In hindsight, she knows she shouldn't have done that,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said he did not know whether the mother knew of Hardy's past. The boy's parents could not be reached for comment.

Wilkins said the incident could have been prevented if parents had followed the guidelines given by the church.

“We ask our parents to register their children at any event we have,” he said. “The challenge for us is we can't watch everybody all the time if they're sent off with someone else by a custodial parent while they're here.”

Hardy was arrested in 2009, when he was in his mid-teens, on a charge of lewd or lascivious molestation of a victim under 12 years old.

In dealing with a sex offender being present at the church, Wilkins said the church takes precautions to keep children safe by creating separate programming.

In Hardy's case, he has gone through treatment and was a minor himself when his prior offense occurred.

“We don't take lightly the responsibility to show some common sense when dealing with these folks,” he said.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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