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Episcopal bishop discusses priest’s arrest with church leaders

Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano  is seen outside the

Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano  is seen outside the St. James of Jerusalem Episcopal Church in Long Beach on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. He spoke privately with congregation leaders after the arrest Friday of the Rev. Christopher King on child pornography and drug charges. Credit: James Carbone

The Episcopal bishop of Long Island met Sunday with parishioners of a Long Beach church after its priest was arrested Friday on child pornography and drug charges.

The Rev. Christopher King, 51, the priest at St. James of Jerusalem Episcopal Church, was arrested after investigators found five videos of boys between about 2 and 12 years old engaged in sex acts on a computer at his church residence, authorities said. Detectives also found methamphetamine, Xanax and numerous drug-related paraphernalia, police said.

Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano first spoke privately with about a dozen leaders of the 137-year-old congregation and then held a 45-minute question-and-answer session with more than 40 parishioners in the middle of the worship service that he decided to preside over.

“Right now, they’re just hurt,” Provenzano said after the service. “They’re stunned. They’re devastated by what has transpired.”

The bishop said he is “very sad for this congregation, for the children that were allegedly portrayed in those videos. And I’m sad for Father King and what he’s going through right now.”

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of California’s Diocese of El Camino Real put King on administrative leave Saturday, meaning he cannot function as an Episcopal priest anywhere, Provenzano said. King arrived on Long Island in 2001 from the El Camino Real diocese, which still has jurisdiction over him, Provenzano said.

King remained in jail Sunday, Provenzano said. If he is released pending trial, he will not be allowed to return to the church rectory.

“Given the nature of the allegations, we really cannot have him on church property,” he said. “Until this gets resolved in the legal system, we need to be very careful about keeping him away from the congregation.”

King was charged with five counts of possessing a sexual performance by a child and two counts of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, police said. He was arraigned and pleaded not guilty on Saturday.

Parishioners Sunday were reeling from news of the arrest. King has been the priest at St. James since 2008 and had at times served temporarily at the church for several years before then.

“He was an excellent priest,” said Donald Fraser, 65, who has attended St. James for 47 years. “We’re all shocked. We never saw anything that didn’t look right.”

The congregation’s treasurer, Walter Shea, 71, said only one or two children attend the church. Church leaders said about 40 to 50 parishioners typically attend Sunday services. There currently is no Sunday school class, but there had been one with about 10 children before 2012. Shea said King did not lead the Sunday school class and that he had never seen the priest alone with a child.

Shea said Provenzano’s in-person visit to the church was “very meaningful. We’re getting the support we need from the diocese.”

The bishop said he assured parishioners he would move quickly to appoint an interim priest until a more permanent priest can be found “so we can begin a process of healing and reconciling.”

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