Baltimore County police have arrested a former pastor of a fundamentalist Baptist church in Dundalk on charges he sexually abused a teenager on the church’s grounds and elsewhere in the Baltimore area more than 10 years ago.
Cameron Shane Giovanelli, 42, of Orange Park, Florida, was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church from 2004 to 2014.
Authorities charged him with sexual abuse of a minor, perverted practice and fourth-degree sexual offense involving the girl, who was part of the congregation. The incidents allegedly occurred in 2007.
A warrant for Giovanelli’s arrest was issued Monday, and he traveled Tuesday to Maryland to turn himself in to county police under an agreement made through his attorney, county State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said. Giovanelli was released on his own recognizance.
Giovanelli’s accuser, Sarah Jackson, has publicly described several times what she called sexual abuse by the pastor when she was 16, a member at Calvary Baptist, the granddaughter of an associate pastor, and a baby sitter of Giovanelli’s children. The Baltimore Sun does not typically identify people who say they are sex abuse victims, but Jackson gave permission for her name to be used.
The 29-year-old Harford County resident first made her accusations in May 2018 in a Facebook post and repeated them in a personal blog, in YouTube videos, and as a guest in June on a podcast called “Not Your Mother’s Podcast.”
Giavonelli could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday night, Jackson tweeted her reaction.
“I have cried. I have prayed. I have watched my character, integrity and my family being shredded for speaking up,” she wrote. “Today, God’s timing was revealed. Today, Cameron Giovanelli was arrested for sexually abusing me in high school.”
Jackson said Wednesday that she preferred to not comment further.
Giovanelli has denied the allegations, including in a 2,400-word posting that appeared on his website in June, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which ran an investigative series in December on sexual misconduct by preachers in the independent fundamentalist Baptist church. That is a loose affiliation of conservative congregations within the Baptist tradition.
Jackson “is a liar and her day of dragging my name through the mud is done!” he wrote in the statement, according to the Star-Telegram article. “For over one year, I have allowed her to smear my name, seek to destroy my reputation, and harass my family through social media.”
The statement is no longer on Giovanelli’s website.
Giovanelli left Calvary Baptist in 2014 to accept the position of president at his alma mater, Golden State Baptist College in Santa Clara, California, according to his successor at the church, the Rev. Stacey Shiflett.
Calvary Baptist has a membership of about 350 people, said Shiflett, who Giovanelli supported as his replacement five years ago.
When reports of the alleged abuse reached Shiflett in May 2018, he said he called Jackson and asked whether the allegations were true. Shiflett said Jackson described what happened in a lengthy conference call with Shiflett and church deacons as Jackson’s husband, Thomas Jackson, a Harford sheriff’s deputy, listened.
Shiflett said the story was so detailed that he and the other church leaders decided to investigate further. He said he quickly found numerous witnesses who corroborated many elements of Jackson’s story, and other evidence supported it as well.
“There were a lot of things she said that I knew she couldn’t have been making up,” Shiflett said.
Jackson posted her account of the alleged abuse on Facebook, and shortly after the allegations went viral, Giovanelli, a married father of three, left his position at the California school to accept an associate pastor’s position at Immanuel Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.
Shiflett said one reason he took Jackson’s allegations seriously is that he was twice the victim of sexual misconduct. As a teen, he said, was molested by a Bible college student who later went to prison on sexual abuse charges, and he was later groomed and propositioned by a widely respected pastor in the South.
In the first case, Shiflett said, church authorities had ignored several earlier warnings about the perpetrator. In the second, Shiflett said, he reported the misconduct to authorities only to have to look on as the pastor was later granted a prominent position at a Christian school in another state.
Shiflett said he has kept his parishioners apprised of developments in the Jackson case, and congregants have been supportive.
If convicted, Giovanelli faces up to 25 years in prison on the charge of sexual abuse of a minor, 10 years on the perverted practice charge, and one year on the fourth-degree sex offense charge.
Giovanelli recently announced plans to open and serve as president of the North Florida Baptist College starting in 2020. As of Wednesday, his name was not listed on the school’s website.
A preliminary hearing on the case is scheduled for Aug. 30 in county District Court in Towson.