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Head pastor at California church molested 7 children ages 5 to 15, prosecutors say

The head pastor at a Southern California church has been charged with 11 counts of child molestation after prosecutors said he victimized seven children as young as 5 years old.

Police arrested 67-year-old John Rodgers McFarland — who led Orangethorpe United Methodist Church in Fullerton starting in 2016 — last week Thursday, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release on Monday. McFarland is being held in jail on $2 million bail.

McFarland’s oldest alleged victim was 15, and the abuse of the children occurred for more than a decade, from 2003 to 2017, according to prosecutors.

He faces seven felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under 14 and four felony counts of the same charge involving a minor between 14 and 15, prosecutors said. Conviction on every charge McFarland faces would result in up to 179 years in prison.

Prosecutors said before assuming his role as a lead pastor in Fullerton, McFarland worked at other congregations across Southern California — including Surf City Church in Huntington Beach from 2011 to 2016 and Fountain Valley United Methodist Church from 1988 to 2016.

From 1978 to 1981, McFarland worked as a youth pastor at San Dieguito Methodist Church in Encinitas. During that period he “attended Christian Youth Camps,” according to prosecutors.

From 1981 to 1988, McFarland worked as a senior pastor a Calexico United Methodist Church in Calexico, prosecutors said.

McFarland was arrested in San Diego County in December on charges of molesting a girl from 2012 to 2013 in Escondido while he was visiting family, City News Service reports.

Officials at the church in Fullerton where McFarland most recently served as head pastor “would not comment on the status of McFarland, who has also served as a volunteer chaplain for Fountain Valley police and firefighters,” according to City News Service.

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