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NP youth minister accused of molestation

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GREENFIELD — A New Palestine youth minister is accused of molesting one of his teenage parishioners, and a polygraph test suggests he lied about it when interviewed by police, court records state.

The Hancock County clerk issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for Steve Harding, 60, of New Palestine.

Harding has been the director of youth ministries and also worked in the day care at New Palestine United Methodist Church.

Police have been investigating the case since April, when a Department of Child Services employee contacted the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department with a report of child abuse.

In an interview, the victim told investigators Harding had sex with her several years ago when she was staying the night in his home. She was 13 at the time.

According to a probable cause affidavit supporting charges of child molest and sexual misconduct with a minor, “Harding came in the bedroom and told her that he wished she could stay with him and that he loved her.”

The teen said Harding fondled her on another occasion while the pair was at the church, court records state.

Investigators also interviewed Harding in April, and Harding confirmed having the girl over to his home to stay the night years ago but denied ever having a sexual relationship with her.

In November, Harding agreed to take a lie-detector test. The test showed Harding was being deceptive when he denied having committed sex acts with the victim, court records state.

A receptionist at New Palestine United Methodist Church said staff members are aware of the accusations against Harding but declined to comment about whether Harding has been removed from his position, working with youth. He is still listed as the contact person on the church’s youth service website.

Harding is also a former wrestling coach at New Palestine High School. He resigned from the position last spring after two years as head coach and 33 years as assistant coach.

He said at the time he wanted to focus on his faith and become an ordained minister.

No other victims have come forward with allegations, lead Detective Tim Cicenas said.

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