GAITHERSBURG – In the late 1980s, Jeremy Cook, Sam Bates, Daniel Bates and Wes Stoy were classmates at the Montgomery Covenant Church Academy. Through their academic associations, they became friends. It would be years later before they realized they were all victims of former Covenant Life Church youth pastor and school administrator Nathaniel Morales.
“I was absolutely shocked but I think most of us had our suspicions that others had been abused, but no one ever talked about it and no one ever came forward so it was both surprising and not surprising at the same time,” Cook said. “Each of us fooled ourselves into believing we were the only ones but there was a nagging feeling of ‘I can’t be the only one.’”
41-year-old Cook, who was 15 when Morales began abusing him, sat in the courtroom when Morales, now 56, received a 10 year sentence for each victim for a total of 40 years.
“This has certainly been an experience going through an investigation, a trial, and now a sentencing but most of all it’s been a healing process for me, getting to speak out about it,” Cook said. “Getting beyond the shame to tell my story openly and face down the person who harmed me and see he doesn’t have any power over me anymore. Ultimately, it’s a sense of relief and it’s an important part of the healing process.”
Cook said the abuse started in the 10th grade and happened at least 50 times. In 1994, three years after the abuse ended, Cook told his parents about the abuse. His parents confronted church leadership with the intention of pressing charges but at the urging of the church decided to forgive Morales.
No one from Covenant Life Church or Sovereign Grace Ministries has contacted Cook since Morales was convicted in May.
“It’s very disappointing that no one has reached out or even expressed sorrow for what happened or tried to make anything right,” Cook said.
In 2010, two women filed a civil lawsuit against the church alleging they were molested and physically abused in the 1990s. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2013 due to statute of limitations in civil cases.
David Clohessy, national director and spokesman for the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he has worked with alleged victims of abuse at Covenant Life Church.
“The response has been terrible and it has re-victimized people who are already deeply wounded and still suffering and it’s been remarkably un-Christian-like for an organization that professes to be Christian,” Clohessy said. “They have deceived the public and their own congregants, they have vilified victims and their families and they have refused to take any meaningful steps to reach out, find, and help others who are hurt by Morales and other members of the church.”
Leaders from Covenant Life Church have publicly denied the charges. Pastor Joshua Harris said the church is conducting an internal investigation.
In a statement released on August 15, Covenant Life Church officials said “As a church we are deeply saddened that children have been abused and victimized in the grievous ways described in the Morales trial. We believe those who testified did so with courage, and we continue to pray for the Lord’s mercy, comfort and healing grace in their lives and those of all victims. We are grateful to see justice done in today’s sentencing.”