Church Officials Not Notified Of Past Abuse Allegations, Conference Bishop Questioned

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SHEFFIELD, Ala. (WHNT) - Sexual abuse accusations surfaced at Sheffield First United Methodist Church and a police investigation started immediately.

In a statement, the district acknowledges another possible case of inappropriate contact between Oliver Brazelle and another young person.

However, area church officials claim they never knew about those allegations until Thursday.

According to a release by the Sheffield First United Methodist Church, nine years ago a counselor from the Shoals area contacted then bishop, Robert Fannin about a client claiming inappropriate behavior with Brazelle dating back to the 70's.

Sheffield First United Methodist Church spokesman Billy Don Anderson says in 2003, Bishop Fannin and Brazelle had a private meeting where an agreement was made for Brazelle not to have contact with children.

WHNT News 19 called Bishop Fannin Thursday at his Florida home.

“I remember something about that case but I can`t say anything,” said Bishop Robert Fannin.

Brazelle denied those sexual abuse allegations in 2003.  However church spokesman, Billy Don Anderson says officials at the Sheffield church never knew about the claims of inappropriate behavior.

WHNT News 19’s Melissa Payne asked Bishop Fannin:  “They looked up the record in Birmingham today and they said, Mr. Brazelle and yourself had a meeting and you guys, you know,  came to an agreement that he wouldn`t have any contact with children?”

“I can`t make any comment at this time.  Thank you though for calling,” said Bishop Fannin.

According to the area church spokesman, after that meeting, Brazelle asked to be relieved of some of his duties at the church.  The new job assignment took Brazelle away from the youth.

WHNT News 19’s Melissa Payne pressed to find out why local officials were never notified and asked Bishop Fannin:  “Just one more question.  I understand you can`t make a comment about that but, the Sheffield, the local church was never notified of that?”

Bishop Fannin refused to answer any more questions about the case and hung up.

However, in a release by the church, officials say a program called "Safe Sanctuary" has been in place at all United Methodist Church’s for several years as a child protection policy.

Officials say "Safe Sanctuary" is a training program every church employee must undergo to educate workers about sexual abuse, and according to the Sheffield church spokesman, it's a program Brazelle also completed.

According to a release from the church, in 2003, Sheffield police and the Department of Human Resources were also notified about the sexual abuse allegations against Brazelle.

No victim ever came forward to police and church officials say no charges were ever filed in that investigation.

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