A lawsuit that alleges a seamy and shocking pattern of sexual misconduct enveloped in ministerial privilege has jolted one of the world's largest associations of charismatic churches and devastated an Atlanta-area megachurch.

Earl Paulk was forced to resign in October as archbishop of the International Communion of Charismatic Churches (ICCC) after a member of his local church—the 6,000-member Cathedral at Chapel Hill in Decatur, Georgia—filed a lawsuit on August 31 charging him with using his position and spiritual role to manipulate women to have sex with himself, members of his family, and others, including visiting pastors, for many years.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages from Earl Paulk and his brother, Don Paulk, for engaging in illicit sex, and from the church's board of directors for acquiescing and covering their misdeeds. Since the lawsuit went public, Sunday attendance at the church has dropped to less than 1,000.

Former church employee Mona Brewer claims in the suit that Earl Paulk persuaded her in 1989 "to believe that her only route to salvation was to engage in sexual acts" at his request.

Paulk "vehemently and rigorously denies" the charges in the lawsuit, which his defense team contends Brewer made only after Paulk refused to give her money and property to keep quiet. Paulk has admitted to his congregation that 10 years ago he "succumbed to Brewer's advances on two or three occasions," but claims that ended their sexual involvement.

The unsavory tale may get much worse. The discovery process in the case—which attorneys say may not go to trial for several months—is exploring reports that Paulk has fathered a number of children with women in his congregation, and Brewer's attorney has filed a motion for DNA evidence.

In December, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the church's request for a gag order that had been granted by the trial judge to protect the parties in the case.

The ICCC, which claims a membership of 263 bishops overseeing congregations in 29 countries, elected David Huskins as its new presiding bishop in November.

"It appears Earl Paulk had become an entity unto himself," Huskins told ct. "He answered to no one, and there was no accountability for him, for other members of his family, or for his church staff."

Moral and legal questions have long shadowed Paulk, his family, and his church. Paulk was first accused of adultery in 1960. In 2001, a woman in the church charged in a lawsuit settled out of court that Paulk had molested her as a child and teenager.

The pastors of 13 independent charismatic churches in the Atlanta area issued a public statement of condemnation, as well as contrition for not disciplining Paulk earlier. After the recent charges went public, they said, "We offer a deep-felt apology for tolerating this type of behavior and heretical teaching among those who say they represent God."

Paulk, 78, is recovering from his third surgery for bladder and prostate cancer.

James Jewell in Atlanta

Related Elsewhere:

Charisma and the Atlanta Journal Constitution also covered the scandal.

More about The Cathedral at Chapel Hill is available from their website.

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