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WASHINGTON -- Three female plaintiffs claim in a lawsuit that an evangelical church group covered up allegations of sexual abuse against children.

The suit filed Wednesday in state court in Maryland alleges that Sovereign Grace Ministries failed to protect children from being sexually abused by church members.

The alleged incidents date back to the mid-1980s in Maryland and northern Virginia.

The plaintiffs claim church leaders did not report accusations of misconduct to the police and offered legal advice to suspected pedophiles.

The church said in a statement late Wednesday that it had not yet seen the suit and couldn't comment on the allegations. But it said it considers child abuse "reprehensible and criminal."

Sovereign Grace Ministries was founded in 1982 and has more than 80 churches around the world.