Church leaders in the US make news for all the wrong reasons all the time. Here is the case of a 80-year-old priest of Atlanta who slept with his brother's wife and fathered a child by her.
Earlier he had promised a church employee salvation in exchange for sex. In fact that was the only path available for her, he said and succeeded in coaxing her! He was well beyond his seventies when the affair took place.
And when she came out of the spell and sued Archbishop Earl Paulk of the Chapel Hill Harvester Church, he admitted to his guilt. That was January last.
And now, a few Sundays ago, there was another sensational revelation. The 34-year-old D.E.Paulk who had succeeded as the head pastor a year and half ago and was known as the venerable Archbishop's nephew, stood at the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit to announce that his predecessor and presumed uncle was his father!
"I am so very sorry for the collateral damage it's caused our family and the families hurt by the removing of the veil that hid our humanity and our sinfulness," said D.E. Paulk.
He said he did not learn the secret of his parentage until a recent paternity test. "I was disappointed, and I was surprised," he said.
The paternity test itself was a fallout of the salvation-sex scam. Yes, the employee, Mona Brewer, sued the church after coming out of the spell. She said he had exploited her for over four years.
While deposing in the case, the venerable archbishop said under oath that the only woman he had ever had sex with outside of his marriage was Brewer.
But the Cobb County district attorney's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation didn't believe him. It was at their request the judge ordered the test. (Atlanta is the capital of the state of Georgia in southern US.)
It is not as if the archbishop was alone in such adventures. His brother, Don Paulk too has a scam to his credit.
In 1992, a church member claimed she was pressured into a sexual relationship with him. Other women also claimed they had been coerced into sex with Earl Paulk and other members of the church's administration.
The church countered with a $24 million libel suit against seven former church members. The lawsuit was later dropped. Incidentally Mona Brewer has sued the entire family and the case is still going on.
"It was a necessary evil to bring us back to a God-consciousness," said the younger Paulk apologetically, explaining that the church had become too personality-driven and prone to pastor worship.
The flashy megachurch began in 1960 with just a few dozen members in the Little Five Points neighborhood of Atlanta. Now, it is in the suburbs on a 100-acre expanse, a collection of buildings surrounding a neo-Gothic cathedral.
For years the church was at the forefront of many social movements admitting black members in the 1960s, ordaining women and opening its doors to gays.
At its peak in the early 1990s, it claimed about 10,000 members and 24 pastors and was a media powerhouse. By soliciting tithes of 10 percent from each member's income, the church was able to build a Bible college, two schools, a worldwide TV ministry and a $12 million sanctuary the size of a fortress.
Today, though, membership is down to about 1,500, the church has 18 pastors, most of them volunteers, and the Bible college and TV ministry have shuttered a downturn blamed largely on complaints about the alleged sexual transgressions of the elder Paulks.
These days, Earl Paulk has a much-reduced role at the cathedral, giving 10-minute lectures as part of Sunday morning worship each week.