By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Hungary
SZOLNOK, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– An elderly American missionary, who has been living and evangelizing in Hungary for 17 years, remained jailed Wednesday, August 29, more than a month after he was detained by Hungarian police on charges of molesting children under his care, his wife confirmed.
Pastor Daniel Peters of the Baptista Biblia Gyülekezet (‘Baptist Bible Congregation’) in the Hungarian town of Szolnok was arrested July 13 on three counts of abusing children who he taught English, Hungarian police said.
Peters and his wife have strongly denied wrongdoing. “He has not been released yet of these false charges but they are continuing the investigation,” stressed his wife, Patricia, in comments to BosNewsLife.
“Would appreciate your prayers…This is an attack on our church” she said.
Regional police spokeswoman Zita Szabó confirmed that “Police detained a 63-year-old American citizen on multiple counts of endangering a minor,” adding that he is held in “pre-trial detention” in a Hungarian prison.
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A girl, identified only as 12-year-old Brigitta Sz., told Hungarian media that she recalled being fondled against her will. “When we were over at their place he was touching and kissing us,” she claimed.
Her sister Zsuzsa added that she wanted “to erase” the incident from her memory. Their 35-year-old mother, also named Zsuzsa, and a neighbor filed separate police reports against the missionary, Hungarian media reported.
Christians and others supporting the couple say however that they dedicated their lives to helping disadvantaged people in Hungary, where many people still suffer under the daily burden of transition.
The couple, better known locally as ‘Dan and Patty’, carried out missionary work since they arrived in Hungary in the turbulent 1990s, shortly after the collapse of Communism here.
The U.S. missionaries, who were send by the Tulsa Baptist Temple church in Tulsa, Oklahoma state, have been involved in activities ranging from evangelistic church services with baptism of new believers, to programs for impoverished children, including baseball camps and English teaching programs.
They also provided school supplies as part of a Back to School project, according to the missionaries website.
Christians said the couple was popular and trusted in Szolnok, a plain town some 104 kilometers (65 miles) southeast of Budapest, but police raised questions over purchased plane tickets found during Peters arrest on child abuse charges.
“We had plane tickets [but] no one bothered to say [they] were purchased back in February and we were to leave on the 18th of July for our normal furlough time,” Patricia Peters said.
“If we had wanted to escape, we would have done so long ago. Why escape from something that you didn’t do?,” she wondered.
Patricia Peters told BosNewsLife that the church will continue its activities.
It remained unclear Wednesday, August 29, why the investigation has taken longer than expected, though Hungary’s judiciary and courts are known to come to a virtual stand-still in summer time.
There is also concern within evangelical groups about law enforcement authorities and others treating them as “sects”, after recently introduced legislation allowing relative few denominations to be recognized as churches.
Under the recently adopted ‘Law on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on Churches, Religions and Religious Communities’ only 32 of over 300 faith groups in Hungary received formal recognition by Parliament to operate as churches.
The European Union and the United States have pressured Hungary to change the law.