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Former staff member at Dallas-area megachurch indicted for indecency with a child

(RNS) — A former associate children’s minister at The Village Church, a Dallas-area evangelical megachurch, has been indicted for indecency with a child involving sexual contact.

Matt Tonne was indicted by the Dallas County Grand Jury and is being prosecuted by the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, according to court documents.

In a statement posted Thursday (Jan. 24) to a page on its website, titled “2012 Kids Camp Update,” The Village Church confirmed that Tonne had been on its staff.  The church also said it is cooperating with law enforcement.

Matthew Tonne was arrested on a charge of indecency with a child. Photo courtesy of Dallas County Jail

“There are no adequate words that can express the pain, sorrow and grief that are wrapped up in this whole situation. We are committed to pursuing healing and justice and will continue to follow the lead of the authorities and experts involved in the case,” the church said in a statement.

“As we all wait for updates, we ask for you to pray for everyone involved, as we look to Christ for hope in such a dark situation.”

Tonne’s indictment was made public in court documents on the Dallas County website. According to those documents, he was released on a $25,000 bond earlier this month on the condition he has no contact with the “complaining witness” or her family and no contact with any child under the age of 17, other than his own three children. He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday (Jan. 29).

The Village Church’s update page included a video from a September church service, in which its popular lead pastor, Matt Chandler, shared that police were investigating a report an adult had allegedly sexually assaulted a minor at a 2012 camp the church had attended, Mount Lebanon Kids Camp. Earlier in the year, the child had reported the alleged incident for the first time, he said.

“It took courage and strength for the child and the family to share this information, and we want to support them in any way possible,” Chandler said.

Chandler did not name Tonne in the video, and the church’s statement did not identify his specific role on staff.

Kent Rabalais, executive director of The Village Church, confirmed Tonne’s title in an email to Religion News Service Monday (Jan. 28) and said the church did not have anything to add to last week’s statement at this time.

The church’s update page also included a statement from the child’s family.

“As parents, our hearts have at times been angered and grieved beyond measure, but we know we have never been left without hope,” they wrote. “Our child and our family have seen the Lord’s abounding love in this through the listening ears and tangible hands of loved ones, our church leadership and staff.”

The Village Church confirmed in its statement it had removed Tonne from church staff in June “for other reasons.” It cautioned that the indictment “is not a declaration of guilt or innocence; it is only the next step in the process.”

An FAQ from the church also advised parents whose children had had contact with the accused that “it would be wise to have a discussion about this situation.” It linked to books, articles, support hotlines and counseling centers to help parents talk with their children about sexual abuse.

The Village Church, based in Flower Mound, Texas, is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and the Acts 29 church planting network, where Chandler is president of the board of directors.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

31 Comments

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  • According to those documents, he was released on a $25,000 bond earlier this month on the condition he has no contact with the “complaining witness” or her family and no contact with any child under the age of 17, other than his own three children.

    So we know that Tonne’s victim was a girl and that he’s married and has three children. If I were crass enough to engage in the same type of vile stereotyping that is frequently seen among commenters here, I’d advocate for an immediate removal of all heterosexuals from the ordained ministry and complain about a “straight mafia” infiltrating the ranks of the clergy.

    Thankfully I’m not that crass, so I won’t. But I could.

  • Even the John Jay Report (both 2004 & 2011) acknowledged a very real 19% heterosexual abuse of kids from Catholic clergy. That’s no small number. It’s a serious amount of abuse against girls.

    Of course, that leaves the OTHER John Jay statistic for both 2004 and 2011. 81% homosexual abuse of kids (boys).

    Mr.Tonne (heterosexual) has been caught, removed and indicted, as is fully appropriate. The child’s family has been given a full avenue to speak out.

    But not even Mr. Tonne can wash off that double 81 percent figure, which the JJR documented.

  • You’re talking about sexual abuse cases among Catholic clergy where for centuries the easy prey was altar boys since altar girls were never allowed until relatively recently. I referred to sexual assault cases in general, but naturally you chose to ignore that because it doesn’t support your homophobic agenda.

  • Let’s be honest on a couple things. First, my post made clear that both categories of abuse (heterosexual/homosexual) are equally serious, equally tragic per se. No free passes either side.

    But having said that, there’s no sidestepping the John Jay numbers and what they ultimately mean.

    So secondly, in 2019, there”s a definitely entrenched, active, and determined homosexual culture in the CC. In 2019, any serious attempt to totally break through the overall sex-abuse gig, must ALSO confront and break through this difficult entrenched gay culture that has developed. THAT confrontation, however, would mean a much-feared Civil War.

  • Re: “Of course, that leaves the OTHER John Jay statistic for both 2004 and 2011. 81% homosexual abuse of kids (boys).” 

    That statistic is skewed, for a very important, not to mention obvious, reason. Priests have, historically, had much easier and more frequent access to boys than girls. As Elagabalus points out, “altar girls” are a relatively new phenomenon (and still not to be found in some dioceses). The US bishops (via their hired guns at John Jay) never delved into this “availability” problem. 

    To be clear: The problem is criminality, not homosexuality. The world is full of heterosexual criminals, so why this obsession over gays? It’s nonsensical on its face, and only works as a way of deflecting blame. The RC Church is very good at conjuring excuses. The John Jay report is merely one example of that — but there are more, many more, a lot of them! A lot of them are absurd, some insultingly so (especially the cretins who actually claimed the victims were to blame for the abuse they suffered). 

  • Agreed…Just search “Youth Paster” in Google news and see all the creeps.

    Heterosexual males perhaps, should be barred as clergy until they can prove they are not disordered. Wouldn’t hurt to check out CDC info on straight male STD rate either.

    No porn either, Jesus’y guys !!

  • So what else is new? Sadly, this is typical.

    Yeah, bring your kids to church and turn them over to these believers in Biblical sexuality!

  • “The report concludes that the vast majority of clergy sex offenders are not pedophiles at all but were situational generalists violating whoever they had access to. Pedophiles, by definition, seek sexual gratification from pre-pubescent children of one gender and target this age and gender group (especially while under stress). Clergy sexual offenders in the Church were more likely to be targeting whoever was around them (and they had unsupervised access to) regardless of age and gender.

    The researchers conclude that there is no causative relationship between either celibacy or homosexuality and the sexual victimization of children in the Church. Therefore, being celibate or being gay did not increase the risk of violating children. So, blaming the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church on gay men or celibacy is unfounded.”
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/do-the-right-thing/201105/the-new-john-jay-report-clergy-abuse-in-the-catholic-church

  • The idea that “That statistic is skewed, for a very important, not to mention obvious, reason. Priests have, historically, had much easier and more frequent access to boys than girls.” has been skewered, barbecued, and dismissed.

    If sexual attraction were that malleable, we would not be reading comments from the LGBT commenters that they were made that way.

    Or priests would have kept large dogs as pets to avoid prosecution.

    No, it’s the LGBT propaganda mill – you included – that is very good at conjuring up excuses.

  • “The report concludes that the vast majority of clergy sex offenders are
    not pedophiles at all but were situational generalists violating
    whoever they had access to.”

    That has been debunked many times.
    It was added to the original John Jay Report after it was issued at the urging of, among others, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

    The basis for the comment in the revised report is a study of sexual predators in all-male prisons.

    It is simply hogwash.

  • It’s a better church experience to stay in those which are small enough to never even have youth pastors or associate pastors or ministers of music. Churches with an actual “staff” of one pastor (and maybe one secretary or administrative assistant for paperwork) are the best for your spiritual health. The big ones have too many ways to get out of hand, put kids in danger and make adults nutty.

  • No doubt every church is going to have some bad apples. At least, there was no widespread conspiracy to cover the story up and ship him off by forcing him on some poor unsuspecting congregation to continue ministry. Nor is there an ecclesiastical bureaucracy that believes it is above civil law..

  • Actually, since the article is about “indecency with a child” it has everything to do with thousands of Catholic
    clergy and abused children. Stop the DENIAL and COVERING UP.

  • It appears he knew to whom he was directing his comment, BiO.

    You might try, however, running around with your hands in the air yelling “They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!”

  • The article is about indecency with a child at a church camp by a minister to children of a Southern Baptist Church. It has NOTHING to do with Roman Catholic Churches.

  • “Indecency with a child” (or 1000’s of children) has EVERYTHING to do with CLERGY of all denominations, most of all Catholic churches. STOP your DENIAL. Are you an enabler?

  • No, I am not an enabler, far from it. Why do you always have these bizarre over-the-top assumptions and declarations? You’re very close to crazy at times.

    I was pointing out this article was about a Southern Baptist, not Catholics.

  • “NOTHING to do with Roman Catholic Church.”

    …. Unless, of course, somebody (e.g. Elagabalus) attempts to exploit Mr. Tonne’s heterosexual abuse crime in order to downplay or deflect the huge, far-reaching and long-lasting John Jay numbers.

    That one repeated number 81%, is inimical to the CC’s surivalpthe homosexual abuse crimes involving gay Vatholic clergy. Such downplaying and deflecting ain’t gonna fly here.

  • I’m not too eager to give Chandler and his crew an “Atta-boy”. I believe him when he says they’re cooperating with the police, but he made a glaring omission during his initial announcement in September. Chandler refused to name Tonne as the one under suspicion, or even to admit that the suspect was someone who worked for TVC. This prevented TVC’s members from making an informed decision regarding whether or how much to associate with him. Because of Chandler’s silence, Tonne might well have had the opportunity to hurt other children, since their parents didn’t know he was under investigation for molesting kids. He and his wife were allowed to leave with a fond farewell, and join another church.

    So, no, this is not on the same level as the RCC’s scandal, but I don’t think Matt Chandler is robed in pure white, either.

  • The idea that “That statistic is skewed…” has been skewered, barbecued, and dismissed.

    By whom, for example?

    If sexual attraction were that malleable, we would not be reading comments from the LGBT commenters that they were made that way.

    What if sexual offenders in the RCC aren’t driven by attraction, but by a need for power?

    Or priests would have kept large dogs as pets to avoid prosecution.

    ???????

    ….What does that even mean?

  • Ah, yes, that little nugget. (heh, heh, heh)

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t come up with that myself — saw it on another blog, and thought it was just precious. And after reading Ben In Oakland’s comment, I just had to borrow it. I realize it’s a bit crude, but a man as arrogant and foolish as MacArthur has it coming. Matt Chandler might be a little better than he is, but from what I can tell, not by much. (Chandler at least apologized to Karen Hinkley eventually, which is more than I expect MacArthur to do for anyone.)

    My commenting history aside, I still think that my questions to you were relevant and reasonable. I hope that others will think so too, and at least ponder them, even if no one answers them.

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