The Southern California conference of Seventh-day Adventist Churches suspended with pay a Glendale pastor accused of molesting three sisters in his congregation, an attorney for the church said Tuesday.
Walter H. Solis, 54, was arrested Friday and is charged with molesting three girls--ages 7, 11 and 14--at his office in the Glendale Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church on East Broadway.
He was released on $7,500 bail the day of his arrest and is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 12. Solis, who has denied the accusations, faces six felony charges of child molestation, police said.
The pastor allegedly molested the children repeatedly between November, 1986, and June, court documents state.
Robert Peterson, the church's lawyer, said Solis has been temporarily relieved of his church-related duties but will continue to receive his full salary.
"We have suspended him, but we are not prejudging the case," Peterson said. "As far as we can, we are trying to treat him as innocent until proven guilty, but we have to protect the ministry and the congregation."
The alleged victims are the daughters of the couple who served as the church's live-in janitors. The family lives in a house owned by the church that is adjacent to the worship hall, Police Investigator Lief Nicolaisen said.
The family had been performing chores in exchange for rent for about four years and during that time the sisters worked closely with the pastor, he said.
Nicolaisen said he learned of the alleged molestation four months ago from a doctor who said he discovered during a checkup that one of the girls had been molested. As required by law, the doctor reported the finding, Nicolaisen said. The doctor, who is member of the congregation, declined to comment.
Weeks later, at least two newspapers--The Times among them--received an anonymous letter accusing Solis of molestation and the church of covering up his actions. Nicolaisen refuted the charges against the church. "The church has been extremely cooperative at all times," he said.
Peterson said that when police informed the church of the investigation, Solis was reassigned to fund-raising duties outside his congregation, a position he occupied until his suspension.
No further determination of Solis' status in the church--or the future of the alleged victims' family--will be made until the court decides the case, Peterson said. A substitute pastor has been called out of retirement to conduct services at the church, he added.
Neither Solis nor his attorney could be reached for comment, but Peterson said that after his arrest, the pastor asked the church board to be allowed immediately to preach again. "He understood the suspension, but was unhappy about it," Peterson said.
Peterson added that despite the charges filed against Solis, "the church board and the vast majority of the congregation have been very supportive of Elder Solis and doubt very much the charges are true."
He said Solis has been a pastor at the church for more than 20 years and enjoyed an excellent reputation as a preacher, fund-raiser and spiritual adviser. "The church board was very disappointed when I told them about the suspension," he said.
Three church members contacted by The Times, among the congregation's 500, said they did not believe the charges against Solis.
"I don't think the pastor did anything wrong," said parishioner Alfa Soto. "He's been at the congregation for some time and he's always conducted himself correctly."