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November 18, 2002



Illinois pastor charged again with assault

OLNEY, Ill.--Leaders of the Illinois Baptist State Association didn't think their state Baptist newspaper should have reported last year that a politically active pastor had been charged with two counts of criminal sexual assault involving two teenage girls who attended his church.


Reporting that incident on the front page of the Illinois Baptist put Editor Michael Leathers in a confrontation with the convention's interim executive director, who was his supervisor, as well as other convention leadership. Tension over publication of the news story eventually led to the editor's forced resignation.


However, the criminal charges against the pastor have not gone away, even though they won't be reported in the state Baptist paper anymore. On Oct. 24, the Illinois Attorney General's office charged 35-year-old Leslie Mason with 10 additional counts of criminal sexual assault.


Mason had been pastor of Olney Southern Baptist Church in Olney, Ill., for seven years until church members unanimously voted to dismiss him Oct. 24, 2001.


Mason has pleaded not guilty to all charges.


Ironically, the pastor would have been preaching the keynote sermon at this year's state convention annual meeting Nov. 7, if news of his legal troubles had not been published last year.


The first charges against the pastor last year were filed just days before he was to be nominated to bring the convention sermon this year. News of the charges prompted the convention's committee on order of business to switch nominees for the high-profile sermon.


Before his arrest, Mason's star had been on the rise in leadership among the state's Southern Baptists. He was vice chairman of the constitution-and-bylaws committee. He was also spokesman for a group of conservative pastors seeking inclusion of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message into the state convention's constitution. He was appointed to the national Southern Baptist Convention's committee on committees in 1997.


Since the Illinois Baptist reported the initial charges against the pastor last year, state convention officials have taken steps to limit the role of the newspaper and prevent it from reporting such matters in the future.

http://www.baptiststandard.com/2002/11_18/pages/illinois.html

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February 10, 2003


[scan down - "Illiniois pastor pleads guilty"]
Baptist Briefs

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http://www.baptiststandard.com/2003/2_10/pages/briefs.html

 

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