Friday, July 16, 2010

Ill. cross advocate accused of child sexual abuse
Ill. cross advocate accused of child sexual abuse

Associated Press Writer

11:39 AM CDT, July 16, 2010



An outspoken pastor who led fundraising efforts for the restoration of a towering southern Illinois cross landmark was jailed Friday on charges that he sexually assaulted a child.

Prosecutors in Illinois' Union County charged the Rev. Bill Vandergraph, 72, with predatory sexual assault of a child under the age of 13, a felony punishable by six to 30 years in prison. He was jailed on $500,000 bond.

Messages left Friday with Union County's state's attorney were not immediately returned.

Online court records do not indicate whether Vandergraph has an attorney. Calls to his home Friday near Alto Pass, Ill., were not answered, and a message was left on his cell phone.

Vandergraph -- pastor of Full Gospel Pentecostal Church of Alto Pass, a great-grandfather and a foster parent over the years to dozens of children -- was president of the fundraising arm of the nearby Bald Knob Cross of Peace, an 11-story monument undergoing a half-million-dollar makeover.

Steve McKeown, a pastor who heads the Bald Knob Cross of Peace Inc. that operates the landmark, on Friday called the allegations against Vandergraph "absolutely shocking."

"Nobody that I've talked to -- and I've talked to many people -- saw this coming. We're talking about a guy who's esteemed in the community and church," McKeown said.

He was hopeful the charges wouldn't hurt fundraising efforts.

"There's certainly going to be those who are going to create a guilt-by-association scenario and may have a tendency to not support the cross," he said. "But I think the project needs to stand on its own merits. If people believe in the restoration, they should not be dissuaded by these unfortunate allegations."

The cross about 130 miles southeast of St. Louis has been a fixture on the 1,025-foot-high Bald Knob Mountain for nearly a half century, standing sentry over forests and much of the region's orchards and burgeoning wine country. Easter services have been held on the mountain since 1937.

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