Colleague: Fla. pastor ignored advice on convert

AP News
Posted: Dec 23, 2009 9:31 PM

A Florida pastor ignored warnings that he was breaking the law when he housed a runaway teenage girl who converted from Islam to Christianity, a former colleague said.

The Rev. Blake Lorenz, of the Global Revolution Church in Orlando, ignored advice from several lawyers, a judge and police to contact the Florida Department of Children and Families about the girl, said former church administrator Brian Smith.

"I implored him to call DCF immediately he said he wouldn't because they would just return her to her parents," Smith said in a court affidavit filed Tuesday.

A juvenile court in Columbus is deciding whether the girl, Rifqa Bary, should be returned to her parents.

Bary, 17 is in a foster home under state custody in Ohio. She disappeared July 19 from her suburban Columbus home, and police used phone and computer records to track her to Lorenz. She has said she feared her father would harm or kill her for leaving Islam.

Her father has denied the claim, and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found no credible threats to her.

Lorenz attorney Mat Staver said Wednesday that the affidavit is full of inaccuracies and that Smith is a disgruntled former employee who had an unfriendly departure from the church over financial matters.

Lorenz consulted with a dozen lawyers and a judge, called Catholic Charities for advice and contacted DCF three times over the 10 to 14 days Bary stayed at his home, Staver said.

"That's why she ended up in foster care," Staver said. "He did everything he possibly could. ... That's why Rifqa was ultimately placed in protective custody."

Bary was returned to Ohio in late October.

Smith, reached by phone Wednesday, said he's not a disgruntled former employee.

In the affidavit, Smith said that Lorenz first told him about Bary on July 19 after Lorenz's wife met the girl on the Facebook social networking Web site. The following day, Smith said, Lorenz told him that he and another man had bought Bary a bus ticket under a false name.

Smith said he helped Lorenz prepare a bedroom for the girl in Lorenz's home and they went together to pick her up at the bus station.

Staver, the attorney for Lorenz, said he is not aware of Lorenz helping the girl with bus fare. It was Bary who told Lorenz's wife that she was going to Florida, he said.

"They were faced with a girl who was 17 who was on their doorstep saying she was being threatened with her life so they were placed in a situation," Staver said. "Do they immediately call the family who were the source of the life-threatening allegation?

A court hearing in Ohio is scheduled for Jan. 19.

Bary's family, of New Albany, is originally from Sri Lanka and moved in 2000 to seek medical help for the girl, who had lost sight in her right eye after a fall at her home.