Texas megachurch pastor resigns after woman claims he sexually abused her starting when she was 12

Robert Morris, 62, founded Southlake's Gateway Church in 2000.

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DALLAS, Texas -- The pastor of a Texas megachurch has resigned after a woman said he had sexually abused her on multiple occasions in the 1980s, beginning when she was 12.

Gateway Church's board of elders said in a statement Tuesday that they'd accepted the resignation of Robert Morris, the church's senior pastor and founder. The board said it hired a law firm to conduct an independent review to ensure they "have a complete understanding of the events" from 1982 to 1987.

The allegations came to light Friday on the religious watchdog blog The Wartburg Watch. Cindy Clemishire, Morris' accuser, told The Dallas Morning News in an interview Saturday that she met Morris in 1981 when he was a traveling preacher and began preaching at her family's church in Oklahoma. She said Morris, his wife, and his young son became close to her family. She said he stayed at her house in 1982 when he asked her to come to his room. He told her to lay on his bed and then began touching her inappropriately, said Clemishire, now 52.

She said the abuse continued for about the next four-and-a-half years. The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Clemishire has done.

When asked about the allegations by The Christian Post, Morris, 62, said in a statement to the publication that when he was in his early 20s, he was "involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with a young lady in a home where I was staying."

"It was kissing and petting and not intercourse, but it was wrong," he said in the statement. "This behavior happened on several occasions over the next few years."

The board said that before Friday, they "did not have all of the facts of the inappropriate relationship between Morris and the victim, including her age at the time and the length of the abuse." They said that their understanding of the "extramarital relationship" that Morris had discussed many times throughout his ministry was not that it was "abuse of a 12-year-old child."

FILE - Pastor Robert Morris applauds during a roundtable discussion at Gateway Church Dallas Campus on Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Dallas.
FILE - Pastor Robert Morris applauds during a roundtable discussion at Gateway Church Dallas Campus on Thursday, June 11, 2020, in Dallas.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

The church, based in the Dallas suburb of Southlake, was founded by Morris in 2000. It has multiple locations in the area, and it says over 100,000 people attend each weekend. Morris, the founding pastor, has been politically active. He was among those on former President Donald Trump's evangelical advisory board. The church hosted Trump on its Dallas campus in 2020 to discuss race relations and the economy.

Morris did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment sent to his email at the church.