United Methodist Church of Woodbury named in lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse in the 1980s. (Photo by Jennifer Corr)

Update On Lawsuit Against United Methodist Church Of Woodbury

In October, news broke of a lawsuit against the United Methodist Church of Woodbury, the United Methodist Church and its various entities from Kristian Chestnut, a Florida attorney from Woodbury who alleges he was sexually abused at church in the 1980s. His two brothers also allege they were abused.
Since the news stories circulated online and in the papers, the accused Russell Hullstrung, the son of former pastor Robert Hullstrung, lost his employment at Yale New Haven health care system.
Additionally, Kristian Chestnut said about 10 other alleged victims of Hullstrung began coming forward to share their own stories.
“The media from the case really exposed this matter on a far larger level,” Chestnut said. “It reached a lot of victims who have been wanting to come forward but maybe did not have the strength. After the media had surfaced, there was a family who had seen it and called two or three days after Christmas and I spoke with a woman who told me that her family had been destroyed just like mine.”
Michelle Parris told Chestnut that she began dating Russell Hullstrung in the mid-1990s when he moved in with her and her family in Connecticut. Parris’ daughter, Chelsea, alleged that Hullstrung began sexually abusing her at their home around the time he moved in when she was almost 4 years old.
In 1996, according to Chestnut, Robert Hullstrung was transferred to another United Methodist Church in Vermont.
A 2017 tribute to Robert Hullstrung from the United Methodist Church New York Conference shortly after his death confirms that he retired in 1996 to move to Vermont, where he served the West Swanton United Methodist Church for 18 years.
This came after Russell Hullstrung had been arrested at age 27 for the rape of a blind and deaf man at the Helen Keller Center in Sands Point. His family attorney adamantly denied the allegation in an article written at the time, but the Nassau County District Attorney’s office told Newsday he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation and time served.
“The United Methodist Church and the New York Conference knowingly transferred a bad minister with his family to Vermont for the cycle of abuse to continue,” Chestnut said. “Knowing after the conviction of Russell, they still sent Rev. Hullstrung to the United Methodist Church in Vermont, close to the Canadian border, with no oversight, and the cycle of abuse continued. It begs you to wonder how many more bad ministers were transferred. They took a page out of the playbook of the Catholic Church.”
Chelsea Parris alleged that sometimes the abuse would also take place at the Hullstrung family home in Vermont. The abuse continued until Chelsea was around the age of 14 after Michelle Parris and Russell Hullstrung ended their relationship and she began spending less time around him.
On Jan. 5, Chestnut sent a letter to the Franklin County State Attorney’s office in Vermont to request that the office schedule a meeting with Chelsea Parris and file charges against Russell Hullstrung, as the crimes that began in 1996 are, according to Chestnut, still within the statute of limitations.
“I am with Kristian 1,000 percent,” Chelsea Parris said. “I believe it was huge negligence on the church’s end. It was public knowledge that Russell had these charges against him and I don’t think they did their due diligence to make sure that he wasn’t in the church, that he wasn’t around these kids… I really hope to be able to go through with pressing charges and that I get justice and that his other victims who haven’t come forward receive justice.”
As for the lawsuit, which charges the United Methodist Church and its divisions and the United Methodist Church of Woodbury with various forms of negligence, Chestnut, who McAllister & Olivarus represents, has demanded a jury trial.
The United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church Conference had previously motioned to dismiss the suit against them because they argued that they are not jural entities susceptible to a suit in New York or elsewhere but rather a religious denomination.
“Right now, we’re scheduled to have mediation in April and the United Methodist Church at the national level has filed an appeal that the court denied their motion to dismiss, claiming that their immune from lawsuits as a non-jural entity,” Chestnut said.
The Syosset Jericho Tribune has contacted Russell Hullstrung’s attorney Stephen McLaughlin of White Plains who declined to comment. The Tribune also contacted the United Methodist Church, the United Methodist Church of Woodbury and the Franklin County State Attorney’s Office.

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