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Spotlight Report

Despite support, pastor resigns

By Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 11/9/2002

A Baptist pastor in Winchester has resigned, more than a month after lay leaders at his congregation were notified that he had been found guilty by a church panel in September of sexually molesting three boys between 1960 and 1982.

The Rev. Lawrence French of First Baptist Church of Winchester offered his resignation to church leaders Thursday evening, according to the Rev. Linda C. Spoolstra, who heads the governing body of the American Baptist churches in Massachusetts.

TABCOM, as the group of 265 churches is called, had on Oct. 1 withdrawn its recognition of French's ordination. French's resignation is effective next Thursday, Spoolstra said.

Congregation members at First Baptist were not notified of the allegations and guilty finding until last week, when the Globe reported that a dozen First Baptist leaders had decided unanimously that French should remain as pastor despite his alleged offenses.

French, 72, has said he is innocent. The church leaders had felt it would be unfair to French to alert church members to what they considered suspect allegations. But after inquiries from the Globe last week, church leaders raced to notify the congregation of their decision to retain French.

French did not return calls yesterday. Nor did the Rev. Barbara Welch, First Baptist's associate pastor, or several church deacons.

When the Globe first interviewed French, he indicated that he was likely to resign. But last weekend, his parishioners, and the church's deacons, reiterated their support for him - to the dismay of two of the three men who had testified against French at a church hearing.

Since the Globe first reported Nov. 1 on the finding against French, other alleged victims have contacted TABCOM and the Globe. Spoolstra said she has received calls from three men who alleged that they, too, had been molested by French when they were boys. Spoolstra said the new allegations will be reported to civil authorities.

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at pfeiffer@globe.com

This story ran on page A4 of the Boston Globe on 11/9/2002.
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