FAIRFIELD — There was repeated talk of forgiveness Monday at the sentencing for a reverend who preyed on and sexually abused the children of his church.
Forgiveness, though, was shrouded by the unanswered question of whether the reverend’s faith was just a longtime guise to sate his diseased passions.
Shackled and hobbling, Robert E. Ruark, the 66-year-old former pastor of St. Timothy Orthodox Church in Fairfield, walked into a courtroom Monday afternoon, a courtroom crowded with his former parishioners and fellow clergymen on hand to watch his sentencing for 19 felony child sexual assault offenses.
Ruark, who was known as Father Silas while he was a pastor, was arrested in July 2012 after Fairfield police were told by church leaders that they had just learned that Ruark had repeatedly molested several children for many years either at the Central Way church or during sleepovers at his Suisun City home.
Ruark’s successor at the church, the Rev. John Christianson, read a letter penned by one of Ruark’s earliest victims, a church member, now an adult, who, at age 12, met Ruark in 1994.
The letter described the humiliation the boy felt because of what Ruark did to him and the choice he made to remain silent, believing he alone was in his heartache and being victimized. Ruark joined the boy with other children at a church group outing and sleepovers. The boy ended his silence when he overheard other victims had decided to tell the church archbishop that they had been repeatedly sexually abused by Ruark.
The victim’s letter recounted Ruark’s efforts to teach the orthodox faith to the boy, the books he bought for the boy and friendship between them. One of Ruark’s teachings recalled by the victim was Ruark’s likening sin to disease, with some diseases being more serious than others.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass us against us,” Christianson said, reading from the end of the letter. “I forgive you . . . and I hope you reconcile with God.”
A few minutes later Ruark, his wrinkled hands shaking and clutching a single piece of white paper, stood and read aloud his handwritten note, saying he was deeply sorry for his inexcusable sins.
“We were family,” Ruark told those who had once respected him.
“I desire to be your friend and not your enemy,” Ruark said after invoking Scripture. He said he now had a burden too heavy to bear that he must carry with him for the rest of his life. “Please forgive me my sins,” Ruark said, tears streaming down his face as he sat back down.
Ruark’s sister spoke briefly. She said she did not understand how or why the repeated sexual assaults on children had happened and how out of character they were for her older brother.
“Never forget God loves you and forgives you,” the sister said before returning to her seat in the courtroom, surrounded by dozens of church parishioners.
Judge E. Bradley Nelson told Ruark that he had violated the trust of others in many ways and had violated the principles of the religious beliefs he had espoused.
Nelson then sentenced Ruark to an 18-year prison term that had been agreed to in a January plea deal with prosecutors. Ruark’s defense attorney, Amanda Bevins, reminded Nelson that Ruark had insisted that the victims and parishioners would not have to endure the pain of recalling in court the pain and abuse they suffered at his hand.
Police have said Ruark committed numerous sex assaults on each of his victims and had photographed some of the teens while they were nude.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.