(RNS) — Last May, shock waves rippled through Christian Fellowship Center, a nondenominational church in New York’s North Country, when Sean Ferguson, who’d attended the church for decades, was charged with first-degree sexual abuse of a child. Then came the accusations that church leaders had been aware of the abuse five years ago — and failed to report it.As church leaders defended their decision, a group of ex-CFC members formed the anti-abuse advocacy group CFCtoo. The group uncovered a growing number of allegations — its site has 14 stories related to abuse in the community — and began to advocate for the Child Abuse Reporting Expansion Act, a bill making its way through the New York state Legislature that, if passed, would make clergy mandated reporters.
Last week, a plea deal was finalized for Ferguson, who admitted in 2022 to sexually abusing two young family members, then ages 2 and 4, in 2015. Ferguson, 43, will be required to register as a Level 1 sex offender — a designation that is not included in the online sex offender registry — and to serve six years of probation. He will not be imprisoned, though the charges brought against him carried a prison sentence of up to seven years.
The decision has further galvanized CFCtoo, which hopes to urge lawmakers to pass the CARE Act before the session ends next month.
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