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Former Orange County church pastor pleads guilty, sentenced to 15 years to life for child molestation

John Rodgers McFarland, 68
John Rodgers McFarland, 68, pleaded guilty Friday to 13 counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
(File Photo)

A former pastor who spent 26 years serving churches in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach pleaded guilty Friday to 13 felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with minors and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

John Rodgers McFarland, 68, was first arrested in Escondido in December 2018 and charged in San Diego County with two felony counts of molesting a girl under 14, police and prosecutors reported at the time of his arrest.

Search warrants were issued for McFarland’s home as well as churches where he worked, and police said in a statement issued in 2018 that investigators had found evidence other victims had been abused during his time as a pastor in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach.

In May 2019, McFarland was arrested by Fountain Valley police and charged with seven additional felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor, including five involving children under 14, and four felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor between the ages of 14 and 15, court records indicate. His victims ranged in age from 5 to 15, according to prosecutors.

The counts against him stemmed from sexual acts committed upon seven minors, identified in court records only by their initials, between 2002 and 2018, according to a May 2019 complaint filed by the Orange County district attorney’s office.

McFarland served as the pastor of Fountain Valley United Methodist Church from 1988 to 2014 and at Surf City Church in Huntington Beach from 2009 to 2014, according to police.

In 2014, McFarland became the head pastor at Orangethorpe United Methodist Church in Fullerton. An internet archive of the church’s homepage shows a “Rev. Dr. John R. McFarland” listed as pastor as recently as November 2017, though his name has been removed from subsequent archives.

A biography page previously posted on the church’s website at the time of his May 2019 arrest indicated McFarland had been a volunteer police and fire chaplain in Fountain Valley and was a youth pastor at churches in Escondido and Calexico from 1978 to 1988, according to reports.

McFarland initially pleaded not guilty to all charges in 2019. In response to his guilty plea Friday, he received a sentence of 15 years to life in state prison with 12 other sentences to run concurrently. He was also ordered to pay restitution, be tested for HIV/AIDS and participate in an AIDS prevention program, court documents indicate.

McFarland is scheduled to appear in court Feb. 22 for a firearms relinquishment hearing at the West Justice Center in Westminster.

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