Rader's pastor had hoped he would plead guilty

03/27/2012 11:05 AM

03/27/2012 11:05 AM

God answered the Rev. Michael Clark's prayers Monday when Dennis Rader admitted he was BTK. Clark was in the second row of Sedgwick County District Judge Greg Waller's courtroom — seat No. 30 — when Rader described his crimes.

In an interview with The Eagle on Monday afternoon, Clark said he had prayed that "God would give Dennis direction" to admit his sins.

"I think today Dennis did that very clearly," said Clark, the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, which Rader attended for more than 30 years.

When he pleaded guilty Monday to 10 counts of first-degree murder, Rader faced the law.

Now Rader must face God "sometime, someplace, somewhere," Clark said. "He must face that in his own heart."

Clark has been pastor of the church for about 4 ½ years. He knew nothing about the BTK case until March 2004, when BTK resurfaced by writing a letter to The Eagle.

"I took somewhat of an interest but not like some of the local people who have lived it and experienced it," Clark said.

Then this February, police came to the church and seized evidence in the case. Everything changed that day, Clark has said.

He visited Rader in jail at least once a week most weeks. He saw him twice last week and plans to see him today.

Although pleased as a minister that Rader accepted responsibility, Clark also was shocked by what he heard in court Monday. He had never heard Rader, whom he knew as president of the church council and as someone the congregation always could count on, talk about the crimes in any detail.

It wasn't easy, Clark said, listening to Rader talk about killing 10 people, two of them children.

"Dennis has never shared any of that with me," Clark said. "I never asked him, and he never offered. It wasn't my role as a pastor."

Rader said after he strangled Marine Hedge, he put her in the trunk of a car and drove her to the church and photographed her before later dumping her body in a ditch.

That detail took Clark by surprise.

"I don't know what that was about," Clark said, adding that he didn't know whether Rader brought the woman into the church.

Although he said he and Rader never got into specifics of the case, they did talk generally about it from time to time. And Clark hinted that he might know what made Rader stop killing after Dolores Davis was murdered in 1991.

"Maybe someday I can answer that — it depends on Dennis," Clark said.

"I think I know the answer to the question."

Clark has received criticism from people upset that he has continued to be Rader's pastor. But that's his calling, he has said—to minister.

Church members continue to go through a range of emotions. Members were welcome Monday night at a private meeting for "processing and praying."

"We're still at that stage where we have a range of emotions — compassion for the Dennis Rader we know, to anger and betrayal," Clark said.

Donn Bischoff, the new church council president, said he has visited Rader in jail a few times. He said the guilty plea was a relief for the church "so that we can get on with our real mission of spreading the word."

Asked if he would continue to see Rader, Bischoff said, "I have no idea. I may, but I don't know that. It's up to Dennis."

Bischoff said he and his family have known Rader since they joined the church 26 years ago.

Steven Redpath has attended the church about two years. He watched a little of Rader's hearing Monday but turned it off when the judge asked for details about the crimes.

"I didn't want to hear Dennis Rader go through all the details," he said.

Redpath said he and his family have not attended church counseling sessions about the case.

"There are different stages of denial," Redpath said. "I don't see myself going through those. Me and my family, we seem OK with it."

Healing for others who knew Rader well will take time, Clark said.

Clark will focus on forgiveness. Anger, he said, separates people from God.

"Sometimes we don't even recognize it, but it does," he said.

"Dennis Rader has admitted to committing some pretty serious and terrible crimes," Clark said. "Dennis has to face the world about that."

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