Bartlett pastor resigns amid allegations of sexual abuse

BARTLETT, Tenn. -- The Travis Avenue Baptist Church sits in the shadow of the skyline of Forth Worth, Texas. It’s where one woman remembers going since third grade.

“I very much loved my church, loved being active in my church," she said.

She didn't want WREG to use her real name or voice because she's still coping with what happened to her when she was a teen in the youth choir at the church, under the direction of youth minister John Finley.

She prefers the pseudonym "Maria."

She recalled a youth choir trip to Colorado in August of 1984. She and her friends were playing cards on the bus and moving around when she ended up on Finley’s lap.

“I was an innocent, naïve person back then," she said.

In that moment, he chose to take advantage of her and begin the sexual abuse that would last for two years, she said.

“It was obvious after a few minutes he was purposely rubbing my bottom. I froze. It was quite shocking and I didn’t know what to do,”

She said when they returned home, it escalated. He'd touch her in inappropriate places when they were in groups and offer to take her home from events and meetings.

"He'd pull over several blocks from my house, turn off the car lights and then proceed to come over and begin touching or kissing me. It’d go on for 15 to 20 minutes and up to 45 minutes to an hour sometimes," Maria said.

She told one person at the church but it never stopped.

“I am a victim of sexual abuse and sexual assault because this man who I trusted and looked up to as a youth leader, chose to do things that were very inappropriate with me," she said. "I’ve carried around guilt and shame for so long and I did have trouble understanding what an appropriate relationship was like. I hated myself for a long time. I felt like I was the one to blame."

Travis Avenue Baptist Church officials said there was also another victim.

Both were under 18.

The Texas church released a statement earlier this month to the news media and members. It reported they “found proof of multiple instances of extensive abuse committed by the youth minister against each of the two victims, occurring from 1981-1986.” It also said to their knowledge, Travis Avenue Baptist Church staff was not aware of the abuse, though the current investigation did find a witness whose account of one of the instances matched the account of one of the victims.

"Current TABC staff members were devastated that the victimization of the teenagers occurred in the church and as a part of youth activities," the statement read.

The Texas church also said it alerted officials at Finley’s new church in Bartlett in 2003, but “those attempts had minimal effect."

But 15 years later, the victims gathered the strength to send letters to Bartlett Hill Baptist Church officials. It arrived in early April. Church leaders said they questioned Finley about the allegations and he promptly resigned.

Bartlett Hill Baptist Church officials provided his resignation letter where he acknowledged he “made poor choices and was involved with two females” but maintained “there was no sex and both were over 18.”

“He resigned without the truth being known," Maria said.

Maria said she and the other victim were under 18.

Travis Avenue Baptist Church officials reported their investigation confirmed "the alleged abuse occurred when both females were under the age of 18 and in the youth TABC group, both at the church and at various youth outings."

Finley left the Texas church in 1986.

“I do not feel like it would be right for him to get a job working where he could put other people at risk,” Maria.

She said she has passed the statute of limitations in Texas to press for any criminal charges, so her only way of ensuring he doesn't endanger any other children is to speak about her experience.

She hoped people in Tennessee could hear her message loud and clear.

WREG went to Finley's Bartlett home Thursday night. He saw our cameras through the window and sent his son-in-law outside to say he had "no comment" on the matter.