A fundamentalist Christian sect with close ties to the newest judge on the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, has hired law firms over claims it failed to properly investigate three claims of sex abuse against underage members.
People of Praise, which grew out of the charismatic Christian movement of the early 1970s and now claims to have 1,700 followers, has hired a former sex crimes prosecutor and second law firm to investigate the allegations made by the women.
One accuser, Katie Logan, claims she was sexually abused by a teacher at a People of Praise school in 2001, when she was 17. She says the school failed to follow-up her reports of the abuse until she went to police in December 2020. The other two say they were abused as children by members of a sect that later joined with People of Praise, and that PoP subsequently failed to investigate properly.
Logan, now 37, was just 17 when her high school physics teacher, Dave Beskar, sexually assaulted her in 2001, she alleges.
Beskar was a teacher at Trinity School at River Ridge, in Eagan, Minnesota.
She said she had a teenage crush on him; he was 35 at the time.
He would come round to the family home, in their tight-knit community, and had dinner with her and her parents – something she now sees as grooming.
One evening, when her parents were away, he came over to use the family’s computer, Logan alleges.
From left: Rebecca Grudenhofer, Sarah Kuehl, and Katie Logan. All three women have spoken out about the childhood sexual assaults they experienced, and how People of Praise failed to protect them when they reported it
Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Donald Trump shortly before the election, is a member of conservative Christian group People of Praise. Three women have now told The Washington Post that they were sexually assaulted, but the group covered it up. People of Praise have hired two law firms to investigate
Dave Beskar, headmaster at Chesterton Academy of the Twin Cities, is seen in a school Facebook photo. Katie Logan accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2001, when she was 17 and he was 35. She claims that the People of Praise school board failed to act when she reported the attack
Trinity School at River Ridge, in Minnesota, promotes itself as a People of Praise school. The distortion of the lettering on their sign is caused by Google’s moving cameras
The People of Praise logo is visible above Trinity’s entrance. Beskar left the school in 2011
He returned the next night, and sat next to her on the couch. He unbuttoned her pants, and inserted a finger into her vagina, it is alleged.
She said she was in shock for maybe a minute, then said something like: ‘Okay, I think that’s enough,’ trying to get him out the house.
She told her parents, then in 2006 told the school’s Dean of Girls.
The dean, Penny Arndt, then relayed Logan’s accusation to the president of the Trinity Schools board at the time, Kerry Koller – who is now dead.
Beskar moved to work at another school in Arizona in 2011. By 2015, he was back in Minnesota – this time as headmaster at Chesterton Academy of the Twin Cities.
Beskar was headmaster of Chesterton Academy in Twin Cities, Minnesota, up until May this year. He has denied sexual assault, but police recommended charges. Prosecutors say the statute of limitations has run out, but they are still trying to find a way to bring him to justice
Beskar has denied the allegations of sexual assault. The dean of girls at Trinity, Penny Arndt, told police in February that she had long had suspicions about his behavior
Beskar’s behavior had set off alarm bells when, in 2014, he married a former student who was 22 years younger than him.
She became his assistant basketball coach after her graduation.
In December, Logan went to the police. Arndt, the dean of girls, was interviewed in February this year, and said that she had long-held suspicions about him.
‘People of Praise leaders failed me,’ Logan told The Washington Post.
‘I think they wanted to protect themselves more than they wanted to protect me and other girls.’
Beskar denies that any inappropriate sexual activity took place.
The president of Trinity Schools board, Jon Balsbaugh, said: ‘Trinity School takes the well-being of students under our care very seriously. We are grieved that Ms Logan or any student would have had to shoulder the burden of the experience she relates.’
Coney Barrett served on the Trinity board from July 2015 to March 2017.
Police in Eden Prairie recommended charging Beskar with a felony, criminal sexual conduct in the third degree, in which a victim between 16 and 18 years old is penetrated by an older authority figure, records show.
Yet prosecutors in surrounding Hennepin County decided they could not charge Beskar, because the statute of limitations had run out, and the law at the time did not consider a former teacher an authority figure.
Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the Hennepin County attorney’s office, said they still hoped to prosecute Beskar.
‘We were looking hard for a way to bring a prosecution,’ he said. ‘We found her very credible.’
A second woman, Sarah Mitchell Kuehl, now 48, said she was molested as a young child by a man who was staying with her family in the Minneapolis area in the late 1970s.
Sarah Kuehl, was molested as a young child by a man who was staying with her family in the Minneapolis area in the late 1970s. She told her parents, who complained about the man – Gary McAlpin. The People of Praise attempted to deal with the allegation internally, and recommended McAlpin undergo treatment for pedophilia. He refused, and moved away
They were members of Servants of the Light, a charismatic Christian group that merged with People of Praise in the early 1980s. Both groups’ practices include communal living, in which single people often live ‘in household’ with families.
Her parents raised the alarm with community leaders in the late 1980s, and Kuehl filed a civil claim against Gary McAlpin, accusing him of abusing her, when she was 17 in 1990.
McAlpin was recommended to seek treatment for pedophilia, but refused and simply moved away, it is claimed.
‘I am still waiting for them to acknowledge that they didn’t act when they should have acted,’ said Kuehl.
‘But instead they give excuses like ‘people don’t recall the details,’ or ‘it was so long ago,’ or ‘how the organization handled abuse was different back then.’
‘What about saying, ‘We failed to act. People were hurt.’ ‘
A third woman, Rebecca Grundhofer, 47, was molested when she was around four.
Her family were members of Servants of the Light at the time, before joining People of Praise.
‘For so long, I felt like I did something wrong, and that I should be embarrassed and ashamed,’ said Grundhofer.
‘I finally realized I didn’t do anything wrong.’
Rebecca Grundhofer, 47, was molested when she was around four and her family part of a communal living society. She has only recently begun to tell her story. She believes that People of Praise did not do enough to prevent repeated abuse
People of Praise is led by an all-male board of governors.
It has now hired a former sex crimes prosecutor, Robin Maynard, from Minneapolis-based Lathrop GPM, to investigate the wider culture of cover-ups.
Another firm, New York-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, has been asked to investigate specific allegations.
Maynard admitted in an unguarded moment, following an interview with a headmaster, that it was proving difficult to do so.
‘They have a very strict code about gossip and about ever saying bad about somebody,’ Maynard said, according to an audio file obtained by The Washington Post.
‘One thing I found is that it’s a little hard to drag information out because they are very conscientious.’
Younger adults are assigned a ‘head’ of the same sex to guide them on spiritual and secular matters.
Husbands typically take over as heads of their wives; wives do not become heads for their husbands.
People of Praise adopted practices described in the New Testament of the Bible, including speaking in tongues, the use of prophecy and faith healing.
Coney Barrett was raised in a People of Praise community in Louisiana, has long been active in the branch in the South Bend area, where she was a student at Notre Dame Law School.
Her children attend People of Praise schools.
Barrett also lived for a time with People of Praise co-founder Kevin Ranaghan and his wife, Dorothy.
A People of Praise 2010 directory shows Barrett served as a ‘handmaid,’ a key female adviser to another female member.
She was not asked about her faith at her Supreme Court hearing.
At her 2017 Senate confirmation hearing for a federal appeals court, she said she would not put her religious beliefs before the rule of law.
‘It’s never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law,’ she said.
But those who suffered under the sect were not reassured.
‘I am not questioning whether she is a brilliant legal mind,’ said Kuehl.
‘It’s more her association with this repressive organization that worries me and how it will impact her ability to be impartial knowing what I grew up with and the mind-set.’