The pastor of a Fairview Heights church said members of the congregation are struggling to come to grips after an elder was charged with the sexual abuse of children.
Dennis Theurer, who lives in Belleville but was a member of the church in neighboring Fairview Heights, was charged with eight felony counts for allegedly sexually abusing two children, Belleville Police announced earlier this week.
“It’s beyond a betrayal of trust,” said pastor Doug White of Edgemont Bible Church. “It’s caused so much hurt. It’s like grieving the loss of a family member.”
White said Theurer volunteered to babysit children as their parents participated in church services and he served as a volunteer choir director. Theurer abruptly resigned all his responsibilities as a church elder about three weeks ago. He had been a member of the church for about 30 years before suddenly severing ties.
While the allegations are disturbing, White said he is confident that Theurer didn’t have any inappropriate contact with children he watched at the church.
“There were always several adults in the room when he was with the children,” White said. “It was a large group.”
Children in the group would learn to sing songs to occupy their time and to help them prepare for holiday performances. He accompanied the singers on his accordion.
Theurer is charged with six counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, which are class 2 felonies, and two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault, which are class X felonies.
A post on the Belleville Police Department’s Facebook page stated Theurer allegedly committed the assaults against two children with whom he was “closely acquainted.” The assaults allegedly occurred between 2011 and Jan. 20, when the reports were made.
According to St. Clair County court documents, Theurer had a clean record prior to the current accusations. He had not posted bond as of Friday afternoon and court documents didn’t list that he had a defense lawyer.
White said church members are working together to recover from the shock and disappointment of the situation.
“I know that God is going to help us, ultimately, work this out,” White said. “I can’t see how right now. But I know that’s what he does and he’s going to see us through somehow.”