Here is my latest feature story for Cleveland Scene magazine. It’s about the arrests of Church on the Rise pastor Paul Endrei and his son Jordan, an assistant professor. Read it here.
Faith is a powerful thing, and the flock at Church on the Rise in Westlake has it in spades. Some beliefs, after all, cannot be shaken: faith in God, faith in their religion, or faith in their pastor, no matter what prosecutors and an alleged victim say.
That’s why, service after service, week after week, families continue to pack the modern Westlake church to take in the word of pastor Paul Endrei — simply Pastor Paul, as they call him — the church’s founder who’s out of jail after posting bond, the pastor who’s awaiting trial on six felony charges of allegedly sexually abusing his adopted daughter. Also a recipient of that faith is assistant pastor Jordan Endrei, Paul’s biological son, who at 26 is also awaiting trial for one felony count of sexual contact a minor.
“If you know the guy, you know it’s not true,” says one twentysomething member of the Church on the Rise before a recent Sunday evening meeting for young adults and teens. “More importantly, if you know her…”
He trails off in unspoken allegation. The victim here is the black sheep, not the alleged perpetrator.
“It’s unfortunate,” the man continues. “The enemy, he likes to attack us, especially when good things are happening. But we’re not worried about it one bit.”
That’s a near-universal sentiment held by members of the socially conservative church. Pastor Paul is unequivocally innocent, beyond reproach. And good things are happening, now more than ever. The church — and business — is booming.
“Attendance is up, donations are up this year — that goes to show you how much love we have for our pastor and our church,” says church elder Fred Bobel.
Pastor Paul couldn’t possibly have abused that girl, they say. The accuser, well, she’s had some “issues” in her past and has to be lying about what happened behind closed doors. When Paul and Jordan were arrested, the church identified the victim in a press release as Endrei’s “troubled adolescent” adopted daughter.
The girl, who joined the Endrei family at age 3, has a known history of erratic behavior. To church members who’ve heard about it, it’s the basis for their belief and faith that she can’t be trusted. She has always been nothing but trouble to them ever since she became a teenager.
But specific details buried in police records document what many psychologists and social workers would say are the telltale signs of a child who’s been sexually abused.