A former Ventura minister will stand trial on seven counts of child molestation, a Ventura County Municipal Court judge ruled this week.
The Rev. Robert E. Henry, 58, who until recently served as church rector and dean of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and Day School in Ventura, is charged with molesting two boys in 1984 and 1985. Henry retired from the church and moved to San Luis Obispo earlier this year.
At a preliminary hearing Monday and Tuesday before Judge Robert Drake, the boys--who are now 8 and 14 years old--testified that Henry molested them after Confirmation classes and at the school offices.
Henry was charged in October with seven felony counts of child molestation but Drake reduced one of those counts to a misdemeanor.
Neither Henry nor his attorney could be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
Henry's attorney, George Eskin, argued at the preliminary hearing that the minister was the victim of a vendetta. He said that the grandmother of the younger victim sought revenge on Henry because the minister rejected her amorous advances 20 years ago.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Campbell disputed that claim and said Henry engaged in a long pattern of molesting young boys while he was rector and dean at St. Paul's. Henry, who is married and has two grown children, served there from 1969 to 1987.
During questioning by the defense, the father of one of the alleged victims testified that Henry had molested him about 20 years ago when he was 11 or 12 years old. At that time, the father attended a church school in Pomona where Henry was minister and dean.
The allegations against Henry surfaced last year when the parents of one of the boys told authorities that Henry had molested their child.
Henry could face a prison sentence of 18 years, Campbell said. He could also be stripped of his ministerial authority, according to a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.
A court administrator said the case is being transferred from Municipal Court to Ventura Superior Court. Henry's arraignment in Superior Court is set for Jan. 5.