CAIRO — A California Catholic church is accusing the church of lying about a 1978 sexual assault allegation, and seeking to hold the church accountable for what it described as “an unspeakable abuse.”
The Grace Fellowship Church in San Diego said Friday it filed a federal civil rights complaint against the church and its sister church, Antioch Baptist Church in Oakland, claiming it “repeatedly” made false statements to church officials about the alleged incident.
The church and Antioch have said they did not make the accusations, but said they knew the allegations were false when they investigated the matter in 2002.
The Grace fellowship church said the accusations were made in the 1990s by former church members who said they were raped at Grace Fellowship in the 1980s.
In a statement, the church said it was shocked and deeply saddened by the allegations.
“While we do not believe these accusations to be true, the allegations that have been made against us are a sad commentary on the state of our community,” the statement said.
“We have a long history of healing, and this is no different.”
The church has been a pioneer in the Bay Area for nearly 50 years.
Its members flock to San Francisco’s Mission Bay for mass and often hold Sunday services.
It has a congregation of about 200,000.
In its complaint, the Grace fellowship said it had no evidence that the alleged victim knew about the rape.
Instead, the complaint said, Grace Fellowship “denied the allegations to its leadership and continued to deny them to its members and to other members.”
“The Grace family is deeply saddened to learn of the allegations,” the church’s statement said, adding that “the Grace fellowship continues to seek justice for its members.”
The accusations against the Grace congregation came to light in the past two weeks after a California court ruled that Grace Fellowship was not liable for its role in covering up the alleged rape.
A former Grace member filed a lawsuit against the congregation in January 2016, alleging that Grace’s leadership ignored the rape allegation and failed to protect a former member who was a witness against her.
The lawsuit, filed by a former Grace minister, also said Grace did not properly inform the alleged victims that Grace had been investigated by the FBI and that the church was aware that Grace was being investigated by authorities.
Grace has not been able to provide details about the allegations against it because it did not initially respond to requests for comment.
The lawsuit seeks to force Grace to provide a copy of the confidential records it is required to keep, including a summary of its investigations into alleged sexual assault and a list of members who were involved in the sexual abuse, including those who were not in the fellowship at the time of the alleged crime.