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The Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists faces a lawsuit brought by two women, who indicate that they were sexually abused by a church pastor.
The complaint was filed earlier this month in Orange County Circuit Court, by Kenia Gilles and Jeny Desronvil, both of who have indicated they want to be identified to help destigmatize the abuse. The lawsuit indicates that they were abused by Billy Leveille, the former senior pastor at Bethel Elise Haitienne Des Adventists Church in Orlando.
Gilles and Desronvil were both members of the church’s secretarial team when the abuse occurred, and Gilles was only 16 and 17 at the time of the assaults. The abuse came to light after video appeared on Facebook of Leveille with the women at a hotel.
Leveille was arrested in May 2018, and charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor and child abuse. He pled guilty and was sentenced to seven years probation.
The lawsuit targets the church for failing to conduct a background check on Leveille and for failing to adequately monitor his activities. The women say they were abused from the summer of 2016, when they were appointed to the secretarial team until the video came to light.
The complaint indicates the church and the conference knew or should have known of Leveille’s activities. It comes amid increased focus on sexual assaults in churches by clergy of all religions, though much of the attention has been on the Catholic Church in recent months.
The renewed interest comes following a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that was released in August 2018, indicating that hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in that state had abused at least a thousand children in the state’s six dioceses.
In February, the Vatican held a four-day conference on addressing problems of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, but critics complain that the conference did not result in any concrete action. However, the Pope did issue a decree that all such incidents have to be reported to law enforcement immediately.
The spotlight on the issue has renewed some efforts to level sex abuse litigation against the Church. In January, an attorney representing a number of victims announced that the Catholic Church had agreed to settle at least five sexual abuse lawsuits brought against a former priest in New Jersey.