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Pastor accused of touching at least 21 girls sues megachurch for defamation in $3.1M lawsuit

Wayne Aarum, a pastor and operator of the Circle C Ranch Christian camp in Delevan, who has been accused of inappropriately touching at least 21 teenage girls in the past, is now suing The Chapel megachurch over what he says aremanufactured allegations against him to gain control of the camp’s land.

In the civil lawsuit filed on June 2, Aarum, 55, who leads the First Baptist Church of Arcade, and sits on the board of the Living Waters Ministries Inc., which runs the Christian camp, is seeking a collective $3.125 million in damages from The Chapel for “harm to reputation, mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional injury,” as well as financial damages.

“For over one and a half years The Chapel has been leading an aggressive campaign against Circle C Ranch, our family, and the ministry legacy of Mr. Wes. Throughout this entire time we have done our best in trying to resolve the issues they have put forth. We have requested to meet with them several times and each time they have refused,” a statement on the camp’s website said, explaining the reason for the lawsuit.

“We have repeatedly requested to know who the anonymous accusations are coming from and again, with the exception of one instance, they have refused. When requesting that we follow the guidelines for settling disputes as outlined by Jesus in Matthew 18, we were told that ‘Matthew 18 doesn’t apply’. Therefore, we have chosen to follow the instructions given by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13 to use the God-appointed government institutions and have officially lodged a legal complaint against The Chapel,” the camp continued.

“While this is not the path we had ever hoped for, we simply refuse to allow this unjust activity to continue any longer for the sake of the camp, our families, and the lives of so many we pray are yet to be impacted for good by the ministry God birthed over 53 years ago in the heart of Mr. Wes.”

At least 21 women reportedly told lawyers hired by The Chapel that they were inappropriately touched by Aarum who worked with the church as one of the directors of student youth groups from 1990 to 2000.

A MinistrySafe investigation cited by WKBW alleged that Aarum’s inappropriate touching of the girls included: “stroking legs (outside clothing and on bare skin); stroking genital area outside clothing; touching vaginal area outside clothing (in shorts or jeans); touching, rubbing and stroking breasts, outside clothing; stroking labia, outside clothing; stroking from hips to breasts, clothed, on the side of the body; touching legs and knees; hand placed on upper thigh; pressing penis into back of girl (hugging from behind); rubbing penis repeatedly in a girl’s presence and the extended hug of a partially dressed girl.”

In his lawsuit, Aarum accuses The Chapel’s Executive Pastor John A. Camardo and members of his staff of orchestrating the campaign to damage his reputation because he refuses to support the sale of some of the 315 acres of land connected with his camp to developers seeking to build a $500 million windmill project.

“The 315 acres of land owned by Plaintiff Living Waters Ministries Inc. lies astride the most direct route for the windmill project’s essential transmission line. Without a transmission line to transport the electricity generated by the windmills in an economically feasible fashion, the windmill project’s economic value diminishes substantially,” the lawsuit said.

“The windmill project developer made efforts, beginning in 2015 and continuing in 2019 to purchase access to the land controlled by the board of directors of Living Waters Ministries Inc. both for the construction and operation of very large windmills and for the construction and operation of the very large transmission line associated with the windmill project.

“On each occasion, Wayne Aarum, as spokesperson for the board of directors, refused to sell or lease any portion of the land used by the Circle C Ranch for such purposes – recognizing that the corporation was giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next decade,” the lawsuit says.

Aarum and the Living Waters Ministries Inc., according to the lawsuit, had maintained a “peaceful, cooperative, and mutually supportive relationship” with The Chapel for more than 30 years due to the founding of the two organizations by two close friends, James Andrews at The Chapel in 1961 and Wesley Aarum Sr. at the Circle C Ranch in 1968.

“For thirty years, from 1968 to 1999, the close friendship between the Andrews family and the Aarum family was important for their organizations and their personal satisfaction with their work. The Chapel recommended the camp to members of its congregation and contributed funds to help expand the camps facilities and enable the camp to operate on a basis that was affordable to campers from Christian church youth groups and families at all income levels,” the suit continues.

“The camp programs, which ran primarily in the summer, complemented [T]he Chapel’s youth programs, which ran primarily during the school year. Dr. Andrews never sought to influence the operations of the camp. He never asked for a representative on the board of directors of the Living Waters Ministries Inc. He never asked for a quid pro quo of any kind for The Chapel’s contributions.”

When Andrew died in 1999, however, “the new management at The Chapel became more expansionist and financially oriented,” the suit argues.

Jerry Gillis was appointed as lead pastor of the church in 2002 and Camardo joined the staff as executive pastor in 2010. Together they worked to increase contributions from the members of the church and expand the church’s membership with three satellite locations.

The church continued to contribute financially to the camp each year and recommended it to families. But Wesley Aarum Sr. “did not respect or trust Mr. Gillis and his financial ambitions,” the lawsuit adds.

Aarum Sr. managed the camp’s operations until his health failed in the fall of 2019. He later died in March 2020.

This testy relationship allegedly led one of Camardo’s staffers to recommend that he “take up the cause of a woman who claimed Wayne Aarum had sexually harassed her while she was employed as a counselor at the Circle C Ranch camp in 2006, 13 years earlier.”

“Although he considered this woman’s accusation to be criminal in nature, Mr. Camardo did not make a report to any law enforcement authority or encourage the woman to do so. Instead, he used the allegation to begin a campaign to remove Wayne Aarum from his leadership at the Circle C Ranch,” because he opposed the sale of camp land to a large wind project developer from Chicago.

The lawsuit stated that the Chapel’s leadership was aware of the increasing value of the property and embarked on a campaign to remove Aarum from the board of Living Waters Ministries Inc., to create “a more favorable board of directors to control the Circle C Ranch Camp and the use and disposition of its land.”

The Christian Post reached out to Aarum’s lawyer as well as The Chapel about the allegations Tuesday but neither party was available to immediately respond.

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