HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A former pastor at a church near Walker is serving jail time for inappropriately touching a teenage girl, one of several similar complaints against him, records show.

Ronald VanOverloop, 73, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery and was sentenced to 45 days in the Ottawa County Jail and a $350 fine.

Authorities say the abuse that led to charges happened at the parsonage at Grace Protestant Reformed Church on 8th Avenue NW near Lake Michigan Drive in Tallmadge Township between 2009 and 2012. It was reported in June of last year. The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office says he had inappropriate conversations with a teenage girl and touched her inappropriately.

Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.

The victim is one of several who came forward to the sheriff’s office. There were a number of allegations of VanOverloop inappropriately touching other teen girls, including long hugs, having them sit on his lap, kissing them, and having inappropriate discussions about sex with them. One complainant said he touched her upper thigh. In one case, someone reported VanOverloop touching himself while talking to her.

One complainant, now grown, said that for years, she avoided going to the authorities because members of the church had been discouraged from reporting abuse, saying such complaints should be dealt with by the church. Another told investigators she was afraid no one would believe her if she said he was making her uncomfortable.

The police report says that when the Grace Board of Elders asked VanOverloop about the allegations in the summer of 2021, he denied them. He was ultimately fired.

VanOverloop was booked into the county jail Sept. 8 of this year, the day he was sentenced.

“…(I stood up) not only for myself, but for all the other girls and women who have been victimized by Mr. VanOverloop but are not able to find their justice or closure through the court system because of the statute of limitations,” the victim said at the sentencing, according to a transcript of the proceedings. “Some of them endured much more than I did at the hands of this man.”

She said when she once went to him for counseling, he touched her thigh, stroked her leg and held her in a long, uncomfortable hug.

“That experience left me in turmoil because it felt wrong, but he was such an esteemed authority figure in the church…” she said.

She said she started to feel anxious and have panic attacks at church.

“I hated myself and I hated my body, and I began to self-harm myself, a battle I still fight with today, many years later,” she said.

She said VanOverloop has not taken responsibility for his actions.

“Mr. VanOverloop’s denial of the pain and harm that he’s caused and dragging this court case out for over nearly a year now has been devastating for myself and other women who were victimized by him,” she said. “Rather than own up to what he has done and the harm he has caused, he maintains the accusations against him are false, or that situations were just misinterpreted…”

VanOverloop’s attorney Josh Kuiper said that it was his fault the case had taken so long because he thought VanOverloop had a strong defense.

“I don’t want to minimize what her claim is, but here I think, to a certain extent, we’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” Kuiper told the court, according to the transcript. “These touches that happened, if it weren’t for an announcement at church, I don’t think anyone would have thought anything about them, that they were assaultive in nature.”

Kuiper said VanOverloop has taken responsibility in the case he pleaded to but described it as a “de minimis assault.”

“I would describe it as something that’s being viewed differently, ex post facto, after the action happened,” Kuiper said.

He argued that with VanOverloop’s ‘public humiliation’ and the loss of his job, he had suffered enough.

The judge disagreed, saying that one report may have been the result of misinterpretation but that there had been many from other victims showing a different story.

When given the chance to speak, VanOverloop said he had repeatedly apologized in letters to the elders of his church.

“Every sin against God comes with a sense — a great sense of guilt and shame,” he said, the transcript shows. “And I’ve carried that ever since this began.”

He also noted that the case has brought shame to his wife, family and church.

“I acknowledge my sin and the guilt that belongs to me and the shame that comes with it,” he said. “I wish I could do something to try to alleviate the hurt that (the victim) has and others have felt; I cannot.”

“I do not deny the wrong,” he added. “I’ve admitted it, and I admit it now to you again.”

The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office initially requested a charge of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct against VanOverloop, but Ottawa County Prosecutor Lee Fisher told Target 8 in an email that after consulting with a detective on the case, authorities decided they did not have the evidence to prove that charge beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the detective and victims agreed to the assault charge.

“It is my understanding that the victims in these cases were satisfied with the outcome,” Fisher wrote. “That is the most important consideration to me.”

Fisher added that though several women came forward, most of their cases had passed a statute of limitations. He said he filed all the charges he could.

In a Thursday statement, the Protestant Reformed Churches in America said that VanOverloop was removed from his role as pastor in June 2021 as the allegations surfaced and was fired in January of this year.

“In obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, who calls us to deliver the oppressed, poor, and needy from the wicked (Psa. 82:34), members and churches in the PRCA take allegations of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members or officers most seriously, and are committed to protecting, helping, and defending all victims of this evil,” the statement from Stated Clerk of Synod Doug Mingerink reads in part. “This includes disciplining members who commit this evil, reporting it to the appropriate civil authorities, and immediately removing from positions of authority officers who have committed such evil.”