A woman who alleges she was sexually abused by a pastor in the United Methodist Texas Annual (regional) Conference filed a lawsuit Feb. 23 in Houston.
The conference as well as the pastor, Kendall Graham, and three districts are named in the suit. The plaintiff is not identified because she was a minor when the abuse began in 2003.
The plaintiff reported the abuse to Bishop Janice Riggle Huie in August 2011, and the bishop immediately asked Graham to surrender his credentials. A statement issued by the conference said Graham was forbidden from re-entering the chuch, Wesley First United Methodist Church in Clute, Texas, and prohibited from any further contact with members of his previous congregation.
Huie also contacted Child Protective Services and helped the young woman with specialized counseling, housing, child care and health insurance for her child born Feb. 9, 2010. The conference has continued to help with those services, said Paula Arnold, director of communications for the Texas Conference.
"We remain committed to the support and protection of children, and we pray for a compassionate resolution to this painful and difficult situation," Huie said.
The woman is asking for $25 million. The suit alleges "childhood sexual abuse, vicarious liability, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress."
She said officials knew of inappropriate conduct by Graham with other women and did nothing to stop it or protect her.
Arnold said the conference has been advised to make no comment on those charges because the case is under investigation.
United Methodist News Service obtained a copy of the suit from the Harris County court office in Houston. In the suit, the woman alleges the abuse started when, at 14, she went to live with Graham and his family because she was told they wanted to adopt her.
The plaintiff said that in 2006, during a church-sponsored mission trip to Jamaica, members of Saint Paul United Methodist Church in Port Arthur, Texas, reported inappropriate conduct by Graham to the Texas Conference.
Graham was pastor at Saint Paul United Methodist, Port Arthur, Southeast District, 2000-04; Saint Paul's, Huntsville, West District, 2004-05; Boynton Chapel, Houston, Central South District, 2005-10; and Wesley First, Clute, South District, 2010-11.
In the suit, the plaintiff states she and Graham were married in August 2009. She had a female child Feb. 9, 2010, and Graham filed for divorce from her on Feb. 15, 2011.
Attorneys for the Texas Conference are preparing an answer to the suit. The attorney for the plaintiff, Harrison R. Fisher Sr., has said through an attorney handling media inquiries that he will be filing an amendment to the suit. A news conference to announce the amendment was scheduled for March 1, then canceled.
The filing of a sexual misconduct lawsuit against a United Methodist pastor in civil court does not mean the complaint was not heard by church leaders, says the Rev. Darryl Stephens, staff executive for sexual ethics at the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].