Sex offender at worship worries some parents

6:46 PM, Jun 11, 2012   |    comments
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Palm Harbor, Florida - For many people, a church is more than a building; it's a holy, safe, worry-free place.

But for some attending East Lake United Methodist, that is no longer the case, because of Aaron Stewart. He's a fellow parishioner, a musician, and a sexual offender.

"As a parent, your biggest concern is whether your child is safe. And if your child is not safe at church, where are they going to be safe?" questions Gina Oviedo, who often attends the church with relatives.

So why the concern?

In 2008, Stewart, then a Pinellas music teacher, was arrested and sent to prison for two years for having child porn on his computer. At the time, investigators described it as hardcore pornography.

"There are real children being molested and raped and tortured," said Maureen Horkan, who worked for a state cyber-crime taskforce.

Now Stewart sings in the Praise Band at the church, a position that at times puts him near children who are also singing.

"I don't have a problem with this man attending the church or even participating in services," says Oviedo. "I think it's a problem that he's really close with children."

The church says as a condition for Stewart worshiping there, he signed an agreement requiring these safeguards:

  • No direct contact with children
  • A chaperone while on church property
  • No access to the church's education wing

"We take the protection of children and youth very seriously," said Pastor Jay Kowalski in a phone call.

10 News tried to contact Stewart at his listed address on Monday, where his grandmother declined to comment. Later at the church, his mother told us that the controversy surrounding Stewart was very upsetting to the family. She also told 10 News that Stewart's only motivation for coming to the church was to worship God.

While Stewart tries to move on and create a future, Oviedo thinks parents ought to know about his past. She says, "The potential is there for a problem."

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