The pastor of a Utah church has been charged with sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl in his congregation.

Josue Romero, 46, a pastor at the New Life Ministries Baptist Church, at 810 Pilot Ave. in Wendover, has been charged in 3rd District Court with three counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, first-degree felonies.

According to Wendover City Police, the parents of the teenage girl came to them to report the alleged abuse. The mother told police her daughter had “refused” to go to church and “told her there are things that no one knows about that happen at the church.” The mother said her daughter told her that Romero had touched her inappropriately for three years and that the last time it happened was about three years ago, according to a probable cause statement.

The 16-year-old told police that Romero had touched her while they were “seated at a large table reading from the Bible with other children around, but no one could see because of the table”; during a “sleepover at the church”; and when they were outside the church playing hide-and-seek.

The victim said the inappropriate touching happened “about 20 times” from 2016 to 2018, beginning when she was in fifth grade and continuing until she was in seventh grade, according to the probable cause statement. She told police “she didn’t do anything because she was in shock.” The teenager also told police that Romero “told her to keep quiet … the first few times the touching occurred,” and that she “kinda” trusted him before the touching began.

According to the probable cause statement, Romero “admitted” to inappropriately touching the victim, and “gave specific dates, times and locations that matched the victim’s allegations.”

Romero was booked into the Tooele County jail, where he is being held without bail. According to police, Romero is an undocumented immigrant and is likely to “flee the jurisdiction of the court” if released. Police also wrote that Romero is “employed at the local recreation center, which is used mostly by underage juveniles.”