Police in South Delta, B.C., have seized “sensitive material” from the office of an Anglican youth pastor from Tsawwassen, B.C., who is currently in jail in Baja Peninsula, Mexico, over allegations of child sexual abuse.
Last July 15, Mexican authorities arrested Brad Firth, supervisor of youth activities at St. David’s church, for the alleged sexual assault in 2001 of a 14-year-old boy who attended a Bible camp at a church in the city of Ensenada. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Firth was in Mexico with a team of teens and on line 81 adults from the diocese who went to Tijuana to help a church-run orphanage.
Rev. Paul Woehrle, rector of St. David’s church, said that members of his congregation have been “traumatized” by recent media reports about Mr. Firth’s arrest and the seizure of material from his offices. He told Anglican Journal that concerns were raised over the fact that newspapers had carried photographs of Mr. Firth showing him with some children and youth of the community.
“Our concern is for the protection of our children and to ensure a fair trial we are trying to be as responsible with the information as possible, and everyone in the congregation is called to do the same,” Mr. Woehrle said in a statement read to members of his congregation last Nov. 21.
“Our leadership disclosed the reason for Brad’s arrest (and the nature of the allegations against him) to the children who were on our last service trip to Mexico and their parents,” said Mr. Woehrle. “We have made weekly updates to the congregation, and have asked people to come forward with any concerns they have.” To date, no one in the parish has leveled any similar complaint, he said.
Mr. Woehrle said that details of Mr. Firth’s arrest were disclosed not only to members of the congregation but also to child protection authorities.
At the same time, Mr. Woehrle said he believed that “under our system of justice he (Mr. Firth) is entitled to the presumption of innocence and due process of law.” He expressed concern over Mr. Firth’s jail conditions, noting that he “is in a very harsh place, in a very difficult position” and that, “The Mexican legal system is very different from our Canadian one, and he has not been charged in the Canadian sense.”
He said that Mr. Firth has maintained his innocence. The parish and the diocese have provided Mr. Firth – who is on paid leave – with legal counsel in Mexico.
Mr. Woehrle said that Mr. Firth’s son, whom he adopted in Haiti and raised as a single father, is now living with his extended family.