NEWBURYPORT — A former Newburyport resident accused of sexually touching a teenager while working at a Topsfield church has avoided jail time after the charge against him was reduced.

Matthew Beish, 42, had been charged with indecent assault and battery on a person over 14. But in Newburyport District Court last Thursday, Beish admitted that a judge or jury could find him guilty of assault and battery, a lesser charge. The charge against him was subsequently reduced and continued without a finding for a year.

If Beish stays out of trouble with the law and has no contact with his victim during that time, the charge against him will be dropped.

A search of court documents related to the case did not reveal why the charge was reduced. However, months earlier a second charge of indecent assault and battery of a child over 14 — involving the same victim — was dismissed after the statute of limitations ran out.

The statute of limitations sets the maximum time in which legal proceedings have to be initiated from the date of an alleged offense. While the time limit for indecent assault and battery of a child over 14 is six years, there is no time limit for more serious offenses such as murder.

Beish, now of Grampian, Pennsylvania, was initially arraigned in Newburyport District Court on Feb. 2, 2018,  weeks after Newburyport police filed the complaint based on testimony of the victim. 

Beish was employed at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Topsfield for at least 15 years, according to a police report. During that time, he was in charge of admissions and took part in worship. There were no other complaints filed against Beish, the report said.

Police said the victim, who is now in his mid-20s, decided to tell them about the incidents after hearing about other abuses of power on a national level, specifically allegations against actor Kevin Spacey and TV news personality Matt Lauer.

He told police that Beish became his communion adviser when the victim was in seventh grade and over the years, the two would go to the movies, golfing and to amusement parks, in addition to tutoring in Bible studies.

By the time he was 16, the victim would accompany Beish to his Newburyport apartment, where he began washing the teen’s feet while reading scripture to him. Over the next several months, the touching became more involved, according to the report.

In college, Beish continued to visit him and the touching reached the point where the young man considered it criminal; it continued when he returned to Newburyport and visited Beish at his apartment.

A third incident took place six months later, again at Beish’s apartment. By this time, the alleged victim was 19, according to the police report.

At one point, the report says, Beish asked the teenager not to tell anyone about the incidents because he could lose his job. Beish resigned a few days after the victim alerted the church to the allegations in 2018.

Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached by email at Follow him on Twitter: @drogers41008.