A former member of a now-defunct Delaware County church was arrested this week and charged with molesting four girls, now in their 30s, during the 1980s.
Richard Bellingham, 57, of Newark, Del., was charged Thursday with indecent assault and corruption of minors stemming from incidents that took place between 1981 and 1988, when the girls were between 4 and 15, according to a 10-page police affidavit.
They were all members of the controversial Church of Our Saviour, which operated in Concord Township from the 1970s through 2004 and has been compared to a cult. Former followers have said leaders squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars in church funds, sadistically beat children, and held sinister domination over members of the nondenominational church.
The affidavit describes nude spanking and fondling in Bellingham's car, in his bedroom, and on his couch in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.
In an interview with State Trooper Jonathan Sunderlin, Bellingham admitted sexually assaulting the four victims, the report states.
At the time of the alleged abuse, Bellingham was a senior member of the church, as was his wife, according to the affidavit.
A state police investigation began Jan. 12 when one of the alleged victims, who described three decades of psychological turmoil, decided that she wanted justice. The 39-year-old woman told Sunderlin that Bellingham had been living with her family in Aston when he began to molest her in 1981. Her family were also members of the church and good friends with Bellingham, who she said used the last names Lyons and Goldstein.
She and her sister, who was also abused, called Bellingham "Uncle Rich." After the first woman came forward, her sister and two other women also filed allegations.
"It was so common," said her 38-year-old sister, known as Victim Three in the affidavit. "It was normal. It was daily life. It was expected."
She said she was assaulted between 1982 and 1988, when she was 8 to 14.
Victim One told police corporal punishment was encouraged by leaders of the church and often would include up to 50 lashings with a leather belt or piece of rubber hose.
"Once in the bedroom, Bellingham would sit in a chair and force [the victim] to strip naked and stand between his legs in front of the chair," the trooper wrote. He would then tell her why she was about to be punished and would bend her over his knee and spank her with his hand or belt. She said the portly Bellingham would be sweating profusely by the time he was done.
She also described about 30 sexual assaults that occurred in his car when he drove her from her home to Booths Corner or the Church of Our Saviour.
Victim Two, now 34, said she was Bellingham's stepdaughter and was assaulted three times in the summer of 1983 when she was 5 years old and visiting his home.
Victim Four recalled being 4 or 5 when Bellingham would fondle her while she sat on his lap. She remembered being 13 and at a birthday party when one of the girls said she had been sexually assaulted by Bellingham.
Bellingham is being held on $100,000 bail.