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Bemidji United Methodist minister removed for accessing pornographic material via church computer

BEMIDJI - Last week, members of Bemidji United Methodist Church received a letter from their bishop, Sally Dyck.

"I am writing to inform you that I am removing your pastor, Rev. John Roberts, from his appointment at Bemidji UMC and he will not be returning," she wrote.

She explained in that letter that he had accessed pornographic material via the Internet on a church office computer. The offense was discovered June 10.

"A piece of paper had been left in the printer that contained a fantasy erotica on it," said Victoria Rebeck, UMC Conference communications director in a telephone interview from her Twin Cities office. "It was traced back to the pastor's computer."

Dyck wrote that she had the computer professionally analyzed and consulted an attorney. She said the data recovery professional advised her that the offense did not merit a criminal prosecution. Roberts has also been assessed by a clinical professional who diagnosed a sex-related disorder, Dyck wrote.

"The pattern of this disorder is not to act out physically," she wrote.

She added in the letter that Roberts had not made any inappropriate contact with anyone, and that he will enter a sexual disorder treatment program.

"This situation came on my watch, and I take it very seriously," Dyck said in a telephone interview. "We hold our clergy to a very high standard."

Bemidji UMC's former minister, Rev. Eric Hucke, who retired last year, has taken over as interim pastor. Rev. Clay Oglesby and a Congregational Response Team attended Bemidji UMC Sunday to answer individual members' questions informally following the service. They also held a formal congregational meeting Sunday afternoon.

"This is a painful time for the congregation," said Rebeck. "This is a time when people really don't like to talk."

Although Bemidji UMC members can discuss the situation and their feelings if they care to, Rebeck encouraged any member of the community with questions to call her office at 612-230-6132. She said church staff members have also been directed to refer calls about the situation to Rebeck.

"We have a covenant, not only with the church, but with the community, to tell the truth, even if it is an unpleasant truth," she said.

Dyck closed her letter with a request that Bemidji UMC members pray for Roberts and his family, and those prayers were part of Sunday's service.