As the revelations of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church – and what senior clergy members did to cover up the crimes – continue to widen the scandal, many are asking how the accused were able to get away with committing deplorable acts over and over again. The same could be asked about Pennsylvania pastor John Hinton.
The pastor’s story began in 1972, in rural Somerset, Pennsylvania, when he and his wife, both 22 at the time, were fulfilling their dream of beginning their ministry, according to the CBN News.
John and Clara Hinton set their sights on the small congregation of the Somerset Church of Christ, where John began as a youth pastor. Clara thought she was getting everything she’d ever wanted, she told CBN.
“I had prayed from a young child up for a Christian husband,” she said. “That’s all I ever wanted was a Christian husband, and I wanted to be a Christian wife and mother.”
Clara fulfilled her end of the bargain, having 11 children with John over the years, thinking he was also living out their shared Christian values. And from the outside, it appeared so.
John would engage with the children and never miss a game or concert, but he was also present for his wife. Clara described him as her “spiritual leader,” saying that the two would “spend many hours talking about God.”
The couple’s fifth son, Jimmy, told the network that his father always treated the family well and taught him respect, adding that he has “really good memories” of his childhood. Watching his father preach, and seeing his vast knowledge of the Bible, made Jimmy dream of one stay standing in the pulpit as well, he said.
“I just remember thinking, ‘I want to be standing up there one day. I want to be – I want to be making a difference in the world one day,’” Jimmy said.
People in their church community noticed John’s seemingly admirable qualities as well.
“In fact, women in the church would often tell me ‘I wish my husband was like yours,’” Clara said.
But, he was living a double life.
It was the couple’s youngest daughter, Alex, who realized through series of flashbacks that something was wrong.
“I saw this picture of my dad touching me in an inappropriate way, but it was one of those things that I would try to play it off like, ‘Oh, he wouldn’t actually do that to me. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe I’m not remembering something correctly.’ You know, I just kept trying to brush it off,” she told CBN.
Alex had a bad feeling once when her father asked her to help him babysit four young girls. She remembered feeling hyper-vigilant during those occasions and being concerned about the girls’ safety. John was living alone at the time as his marriage with Clara fell apart.
“One of the kids had said that she loved spending the night at his house, and she had asked him that day, ‘Are we going to spend the night at your house tonight Mr. John, and can we sleep in your bed?'” Alex said.
The puzzle pieces clicked for Alex after she researched online the signs of child sex abuse, realizing that the attention her father gave to young children – such as buying them snacks to keep secrets – was “grooming.” She also noticed that her father would offer to help parents who were clearly in need of a break.
Alex first went to her mother, and after listening to her daughter, “a million light bulbs went off,” Clara said.
Under the veil of an ideal home life, Clara and the children never suspecting that John was abusing his position of power within the church.
In hindsight, Clara noticed some “off-the-wall” behavior, such as lighting a firecracker and throwing it in the auditorium while preaching one morning on one occasion, and picking up a Halloween mask and screaming, frightening the congregation, on another.
CBN News EXCLUSIVE: The Pedophile in the Pulpit: How a Respected Pastor Abused Hundreds of Children for 40 Years, and No One Knew
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One of the couple’s daughters also caught John looking at pornography while in his office one day, and when Clara confronted him, he told her he was “going to do a series of sermons on porn.”
“He said, ‘How can you teach on porn if you don’t know what it’s about?’” Clara said. “He said, ‘I was preparing sermon topics.’ And I believed him.”
Jimmy had taken over for his father at the Church of Christ two years earlier when their father left for another church, so Alex went to him, which made years of “weird memories” bubble up for Jimmy as well.
Together, the siblings reported the suspected abuse to authorities, and after an extensive investigation, authorities found more than enough evidence to convict John of 200 counts that included rape of a child, indecent assault of a child, designing obscene materials and possession of child pornography. In 2012, John, then 62, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Many in the community responded to the Hinton family with compassion after John’s arrest. John had married and baptized much of the community, but his family are still dealing with the repercussions of what he did.
“It’s a really humbling thing to say ‘I didn’t have a clue,'” Jimmy said. “And so my question was, ‘How did we miss it?’”
(H/T: CBN News)