Pastor Sexually Assaulted Child: Police

Church leader resigned abruptly last month, church elder says

By Vince Lattanzio
|  Friday, Nov 15, 2013  |  Updated 11:32 PM EDT
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The former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Salem, NJ is arrested and charged with fondling a young child.

NBC10.com - Chris Cato

The former pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Salem, NJ is arrested and charged with fondling a young child.

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The former pastor of a large South Jersey church has been charged with sexually assaulting a child.

Rev. Jonathan Smith allegedly performed a sexual act on and fondled the genitalia of a child under the age of 13, according to an arrest warrant obtained by NBC10. The alleged crimes took place around July 1.

Smith, 58, is the former pastor of the Salem First Presbyterian Church in Salem, N.J. and suddenly resigned from his post in October after leading the church for nine years.

Earl Gage, a church board member, says Smith cited "medical and personal reasons" for his departure.

"It was certainly different," Gage said of Smith's resignation.

Smith was arrested on Thursday for the alleged crimes and charged with aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

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Officials will not say how Smith met the child. A online church directory says the man is married with two grown children and eight grandchildren.

Learning of Smith's arrest, Gage says the community was floored and saddened.

"It's a very dark time. And it's a devastating time," he said. "He was a friend, he'd had dinner here, we had dinner at his house nothing in his past would give any indication of this."

The church, which has about 30 youth members, will discuss Smith's arrest at services on Sunday, Gage said. He and other elders plan to reach out to the children's parents and encourage them to talk with the kids.

"We would hope that people understand it's one individual's sickness that brought this on," he said.

Smith is being held in the Salem County Jail on $150,000 bail. Officials say the investigation is on-going.

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