MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (BP) -- A Baptist children's pastor in Alabama has pleaded guilty to 16 counts of sodomy, three counts of sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12 and one count of child pornography.
Jeffrey Dale Eddie, the children's pastor and administrator of Highland Park Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, was arrested Feb. 4. Eddie, who was released from his duties upon arrest, had served on the Highland Park staff for 16 years.
Eddie was charged with two counts of child pornography, 31 counts of second-degree sodomy and three counts of sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12, according to The Alabama Baptist newspaper.
Court documents indicate Eddie confessed to performing multiple sex acts on children from the church he served.
WAFF-TV reported Eddie will serve at least 30 years in prison under his March 7 plea. The sentence will be served concurrently.
Prior to his role at Highland Park Baptist, Eddie was employed by North Highland Baptist Church near Tuscumbia, North Village Baptist Church in Florence and one other unconfirmed church, according to his personal website.
Brett Pitman, pastor of Highland Park Baptist, discussed at the Alabama State Evangelism Conference in Montgomery Feb. 24-25 the church's desire to minister to the hurting families affected by the tragedy.
During his sermon, Pitman said suffering provides an opportunity for God to be glorified. He urged listeners to allow weeping to lead them to worship.
"When you are stripped bare ... beaten down ... and yet in the midst of that through [a] broken heart you're able to stand and worship the one true, holy God," Pitman said, "... it will be the most glorious worship you will ever experience. In the midst of suffering, get your eyes off the storm and ... on Jesus."
Following Eddie's arrest, Highland Park Baptist released a statement saying the church was "outraged, shocked and deeply saddened" by the news.
"First and foremost, we are striving to assist any children and families that have been affected by these events," the statement said. "The health and well-being of these children is our number one priority at this time."
The Muscle Shoals Police Department picked Eddie up for questioning Feb. 2 after the church's worship arts pastor, Jeff Beech, found two pornographic images of young males among Eddie's laptop files.
Beech and Pitman had asked to see Eddie's electronic devices after a church member walked into Eddie's office in late January and witnessed a child sitting on his lap with Eddie's hands up the child's shirt.
When questioned by police Eddie, 41, said he was addicted to pornography and the images on his computer were downloaded from the Internet. The investigation was originally focused on child pornography but evidence pointed authorities to additional charges, the police said.
Though Eddie reportedly admitted to sexually abusing multiple members of Highland Park's children's ministry, he was unable to recall all of the victims. One victim said Eddie engaged in sexual acts with him at least once a month beginning in 2011 when the child was 11 years old.
Eddie has two sons, and according to court documents, his wife Melissa filed for divorce Feb. 3.
Five counselors from Pathways Professional Counseling and Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association Disaster Relief chaplains were serving as resources to church members.
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