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Ex-pastor admits assault

Two victims speak of 1980 sex crimes.

Three decades after he preyed on teenage girls in a church youth group, a 76-year-old former pastor pleaded no contest to rape and guilty to sexual assault in cases involving two women now in their 40s.

Gerald L. Klever of Tucson, Ariz., admitted to forcing a then-16-year-old girl to perform oral sex. He pleaded no contest to raping a second teenage girl in a pool.

Both crimes happened in 1980 when he was a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Delaware County.

Yesterday, the victims spoke in a courtroom packed with church members and the family and friends of Klever's victims. Deputy District Attorney A. Sheldon Kovach, who prosecuted Klever, asked those affected by Klever's abuse, directly or indirectly, to stand.

About 40 people rose.

One of Klever's victims, Christine Kuhn, said Klever took advantage of her difficult family life, knowing that she was vulnerable at 16.

"You told me that God was OK with all of this," Kuhn said in court. "You repeatedly told me that you loved me. I had never been told that in my entire life. You knew that. You used that against me."

Klever used a cane to steady himself as he stood to face his victims and their relatives.

"What I did was unconscionable, just unconscionable," he said. "I'm ashamed of myself and what I did."

He added: "If it's any consolation . . . every day I pray, asking the Holy Spirit to surround you, each of you, and your families, and comfort you."

Klever has significant health issues, including early-onset Parkinson's disease, heart disease, vascular disease and prostate cancer.

His unlikely prosecution resulted from victims' continued efforts to expose Klever, and a twist in the statute of limitations that allowed prosecutors to charge him for acts committed between 1980 and 1983, when he moved out of the state.

Before 1980, the law allowed prosecution of rape and sexual assault within two years of the crime's occurrence, Kovach said. In July 1980, the rules changed, extending the limit to five years.

Minors were permitted five years after age 18 to contact police.

When Klever left Pennsylvania in 1983, the clock froze, making him liable for crimes dating back to the rule change, Kovach said.

After leaving Springfield, Klever became pastor of Sixth Presbyterian Church in Washington. Five years later, he resigned after accusations of sexual misconduct with adults surfaced, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. In 1993, the church revoked his ordination credentials.

Klever arrived at the Springfield church in 1977. Soon afterward, at least one group of parents complained to church officials that he had abused their daughter, Kovach said. The accusation was reported up the church hierarchy and Klever was required to seek counseling, Kovach said.

Kuhn also said she reported her abuse by Klever to church officials when he still worked in Springfield, but no action was taken.

In 1988, a retiring pastor told Kuhn that she was not the only person to complain about Klever.

Two years ago, Kuhn approached the Rev. Byron Leasure, a new interim pastor at the church.

He listened to her story and sent letters to congregation members asking any with complaints against Klever to step forward.

At least a dozen women responded, but only four agreed to talk to police, Kovach said. Of the 15 charges brought against him, Klever pleaded to two counts.

Both victims who testified yesterday before Judge James Nilon said Klever's abuse drove them away from the church. Kuhn never baptized her son or took her daughter, now 16, to church.

The second victim, who asked that her name be withheld, said she has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and suffers flashbacks. Both victims said they had trouble establishing normal relationships.

If the judge accepts the conditions of the plea agreement, Klever will be sentenced to 10 years of probation, one year of house arrest, 1,000 hours of community service, and restitution payments of nearly $25,000.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 29.

In 2006, following national clergy-abuse scandals, Pennsylvania lawmakers again changed the law so that minors who suffer sexual abuse have until age 50 to report the incidents.