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'Fight Church' pastor charged with forcible touching

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/12/2017 Steve Orr
Pastor Paul Burress delivers his message at Victory Church in Henrietta. © 2012 file photo Pastor Paul Burress delivers his message at Victory Church in Henrietta.

HENRIETTA, N.Y. — Paul Burress, a charismatic, in-your-face pastor who gained fame for operating a fight club in his house of worship, has been accused of forcibly touching two women.

Burress was for years a pastor at Victory Church, a large nondenominational Christian church. The Victory website does not list Burress as being among its leadership team, and the telephone went unanswered there Monday morning.

Burress, 43, is a mixed-martial arts fighter as well as a minister, and received a great deal of publicity when he was featured in Fight Church, a 2014 documentary.

On Friday morning, however, he was arrested by Monroe County sheriff's deputies on two counts of forcible touching, according to Sheriff's Office spokesman Cpl. John Helfer. Helfer verified the person arrested was the minister noted for his "Fight Church" activities.

The charges arose from separate incidents in February, Helfer said. The complainants are adult females.

The offense in question, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail, is defined in the state penal law as forcibly touching "the sexual or other intimate parts of another person."

Burress, who could not be reached for comment Monday, was processed in the sheriff's Henrietta substation and given an appearance ticket.

He is scheduled to be arraigned in Henrietta Town Court on Sept. 19, according to the Monroe County District Attorney's office.

The Henrietta pastor has been dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct for several years. Several blogs and news websites featured such claims three years ago, when Burress came to public attention because of his fighting-in-church approach.

But none of those accusations were proved and there is no record of any previous arrest.

Tina Wright, a former member of Victory Church who asserts she has a long personal history with Burress, said she had spoken to one of the women who filed charges.

Wright, who now lives in South Carolina, said she encouraged that woman and others who may have been harmed by the minister to come forward.

"I know beyond the shadow of a doubt there are more victims. There’s a lot of us here," Wright said. "We need to end the silence so we can stop the cycle of abuse, especially in the church."

Asked her reaction to reports of his arrest, Wright said, "I’m still in shock, to be honest. I’m relieved that the voices of the victims are finally being heard and they’ll have the opportunity to tell their stories."

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