VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A pastor previously accused of soliciting sex from a minor has “voluntarily stepped back” from his leadership role at a Virginia Beach church.
Rev. John Blanchard was among 17 men accused of solicitation of prostitution after an online sting operation by law enforcement.
Blanchard was the senior pastor at Rock Church International in Virginia Beach at the time of his arrest.
The Chesterfield County Police Special Victims Unit said the suspects believed they were soliciting sex from minors through online and social media platforms, but were actually communicating with detectives.
Court records show that the person Blanchard was texting prior to his arrest was posing as a 17-year-old girl.
The charges against Blanchard were withdrawn, or nolle prosequi, ahead of the criminal trial in October. Nolle prosequi means prosecutors could potentially bring those charges again.
Blanchard initially voluntarily stepped down from his position as senior pastor at Rock Church after he was arrested.
The church issued another statement in October after the criminal charges were withdrawn.
“We have always believed in John’s innocence. His humility and submission to those over him during this time has been a testimony to his character. He has spent the time in fasting and prayer and has invested much of his time in his family and education. We anticipate his resumption of church duties in the near future,” Bishop Anne Gimenez said.
A new statement was published on Rock Church’s website stating that Blanchard has once again “voluntarily stepped back” as lead pastor and from all of his leadership duties “until this present situation is totally resolved.”
According to the statement, Rock Church will support investigations arising from accusations of sexual misconduct or immorality against its staff and leaders.