DUNDALK — No community or denomination, it seems, is immune to child rape from clergy — even in Dundalk.
Baltimore County Police have charged Cameron Shane Giovanelli, former pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Dundalk, with a number of sexual assault charges stemming from a case involving a then 17-year-old student.
Police believe there may be other victims, and law enforcement, church members and the community are “hoping they will have the courage to come forward,” officials said.
Cameron Shane Giovanelli, 42, now residing in Orange Park, Florida, is charged with the sexual abuse of a minor, perverted practice, and fourth degree sexual offense stemming from illegal sexual contact he had with a student at the school between January and August of 2007.
“The abuse of the student began with unsolicited kissing and progressed, taking place nearly daily either within the school offices on church property or at other off-property locations,” said police.
An investigation was opened in May of 2018 when the victim reported the abuse to authorities.
The completed investigation was submitted to the Office of the State’s Attorney and a decision was made to charge Giovanelli. An arrest warrant was obtained and served on Monday, August 5.
The accused pastor voluntarily turned himself in on Tuesday, August 6. Officials said the alleged child sex abuser was released on his own recognizance at an initial bail hearing under the condition that he have no contact with any minor.
Based on information provided by the victim, authorities said “it is likely there are additional victims who were abused by Giovanelli.”
He was pastor of the fundamentalist Baptist church and school for eleven years, from 2003 to 2014. Calvary Baptist is located in the 7300 block of Manchester Road.
“Anyone who may have additional information or was victimized by Giovanelli is encouraged to contact detectives from the Baltimore County Police Crimes Against Children Unit by calling 410-853-3650,” police said in a statement.
Pastor Stacey Shiflett succeeded Giovanelli, and spoke to The Dundalk Eagle on Monday.
“We found out about it over a year ago when Sarah went public on her Facebook page,” he said. “We’ve had a little over a year to absorb that information. Our people are obviously disappointed. We’re hopeful that at some point very soon she can have some closure and get it all wrapped up. We are staying strong, praying for Sarah. The church has been supportive of me, because Cameron was a friend of mine. Our people are unified. We felt her story was credible. We supported her going to the police.”
The church put out a statement on social media on August 6, the day the alleged child sex abuser and former pastor turned himself in to Baltimore County Police.
“Last year, we became aware of accusations that Cameron Giovanelli sexually abused a teenager,” church officials wrote. “We immediately reached out to the victim and did everything within our power to help law enforcement with their investigation. Today, we received word that, among other charges, Cameron Giovanelli was arrested and charged with felony sexual abuse of a minor. Sexual abuse has no place within the church, nor do those who cover or ignore sexual abuse. The people of Calvary Baptist Church stand by the victim and join her in profound gratitude that Cameron Giovanelli will face justice.”
The pastor and a deacon signed their names to the missive.
Responses to the public statement indicate that congregation and community members are echoing the police’s concern — there seem to be growing whispers of further sexual abuse within the fundamentalist church.
“Thank you Pastor for believing Sarah and taking action,” wrote Donna Hudson. “Also, thank you for listening to my story and believing in me as well.”
Another respondent, Emmalee McGallagher, said she would have more respect for the institution of church as a whole if more churches were as pro-active as Shiflett and his flock.
“15 months. 455 days,” wrote victim Sarah Jackson on her Facebook page last week. “I have cried. I have prayed. I have been [through] hell and back watching my character, my integrity and my family’s character being shredded for speaking up. Today, God’s timing was revealed. Today, Cameron Giovanelli was arrested for sexually abusing me in high school. The journey isn’t over but we just made a massive step! Crying tears of relief tonight.”
Giovannelli has “emphatically denied the allegations,” according to his lawyers and has resorted to lengthy internet blog posts to stake his claim of innocence in recent months.
He had previously been employed as the president of Golden State Baptist College in California.
Jackson, now in her late 20s, has a family — and a voice she finally isn’t afraid to use.