The Rev. George C. Waddles
Chicago Police Department

A South Side Chicago pastor remains in his pulpit despite evidence that he behaved inappropriately and may have sexually molested a girl in his office over the course of several years, reports the Daily Beast.

The Rev. George Waddles Sr., pastor of the 200-member Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church for the last 29 years, has pleaded not guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse, a felony that carries a possible seven-year prison sentence.

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According to Cook County prosecutors, the 67-year-old reverend had known the alleged victim since she was a toddler and counseled her in private sessions from the time she was 13, in 2011, until age 15. She remains unnamed because she is a minor. 

The pastor, who has a master’s degree in social work, allegedly became “inappropriate” within a year of starting the counselin. Prosecutors allege that between 2012 and 2014, he asked, and the girl refused, to lift her shirt, and he also tried to kiss and hug her at the end of counseling sessions.

In 2014, Waddles allegedly asked the then-15-year-old girl to sit on his lap, and he put his hand inside her pants and underwear. She says she told her mother a month later.

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Mother and daughter reportedly confronted the minister in his office and then later met with the pastor and his wife, Karen Waddles. The pastor allegedly admitted to the inappropriate touching during that meeting and also asked the girl and her mother not to go police—all of which was secretly recorded by the girl’s mother on her cellphone, prosecutors say.

The Daily Beast reports that though Illinois has strict laws that regulate the recording of public conversations, Waddles’ taped confession might meet the criteria for an exception to the law.

At a hearing in September, prosecutor Tara Pease-Harkin said that two other women came forward claiming to be victims of Waddles’ abuse. One reported unwanted hugs and kisses in 1996 when she was 11 and also claimed that Waddles made her touch his penis. Another said he tried to hug and kiss her during an office counseling session in 2006 and wouldn’t allow her to leave his office.

Waddles turned himself in to police Sept. 29, 2015, and according to prosecutors, he made “a positive disclosure” to detectives consistent with the girl’s story, reports the Daily Beast.

After he was released from jail, a judge ruled that he would be allowed to continue to perform his duties as pastor but could have no contact with anyone under the age of 18 without another adult present.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, the family said that they had been shunned by their former congregation and were receiving weekly intimidating phone calls.

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At the same time, according to the Tribune, Waddles has remained in the pulpit and has been invited to speak at other churches. He spoke on Easter Sunday this year.

Read more at the Daily Beast and Chicago Tribune.