The Richmond Outreach Center posted a letter on its website Thursday night: Geronimo Aguilar, the South Richmond mega-church's charismatic pastor and founder, was temporarily stepping down "to devote his time and energy to certain legal matters in Texas."
"While we believe the accusations against him to be completely untrue and unfounded, we have accepted his request for a temporary leave of absence," says the letter, addressed to "ROC family and friends." It's paid leave, the letter says, "considering the incredible contributions that Pastor Geronimo has made to the ROC as a founding member."
The letter doesn't go into much more detail about Aguilar's legal troubles. But they've been well documented elsewhere: Two days earlier, police circulated a mug shot of the pastor accompanied by a news release. According to local authorities, Aguilar had been formally charged in Fort Worth, Texas, with two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child younger than 14.
At a bond hearing the next day in Manchester District Court, the U.S. marshal who took Aguilar into custody says she was met at the pastor's door by a large man who "bucked up" and balled his fists when he saw her. The marshal told the judge that despite the initial display of aggression the man ultimately cooperated, and Aguilar was taken into custody without incident.
Aguilar was granted $50,000 bond at the hearing, but waived release and was scheduled to be extradited by Texas authorities on Friday. Aguilar now faces seven felony charges, according to the Tarrant County district attorney in Texas: four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child younger than 14, two counts of sexual assault of a child, and one charge of indecency with a child.
Fort Worth police investigated Aguilar for months. The allegations date to 1996 and involve two women. Aguilar's lawyer has maintained his client's innocence throughout, saying the charges previously had been investigated and deemed unfounded. He says he expects a similar conclusion in this case.
The ROC's board of directors, which sent the letter to parishioners, is asking members to keep Aguilar in their prayers. And on the church's Facebook page, dozens have posted messages of support. Others are still trying to make sense of it all: "My heart and soul is so broken and confused," Judy Morton writes, "I loved the ROC."