Outrage: Is COGIC paying for victims silence on clergy sex crimes?
Originally published July 27, 2009 at GCM Watch
A three part GCM Watch Special Report
Just by reading Superintendent Larry Weem’s airbrushed website, you’d never know three years ago, he was minutes away from going on trial for the sexual assault and abuse of five women under his employ at the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) Saints Academy in Lexington, Mississippi. Some graduates of the school have said it to be a breeding ground of sexual misconduct and includes among its alumni false prophetess Jaunita Bynum. Still, according to Christianity Today, COGIC pumps $1.4 million into the school annually.
All of the attacks on the women occurred while Weems (pictured left) was in his official capacity as head of the school. Weems also served as pastor of Davis Temple in COGIC’s Mississippi Southern First jurisdiction. In addition, he was the jurisdictions head secretary. Weems also worked as a national trustee overseeing some 400 acres of property and equipment owned by the “national church” in Mississippi.
Then in a stunning reversal of events, Weems offered to pay off all the plaintiffs and ended what would have certainly been a public airing of his sordid sexual attacks against the women. And jail time.
Media interviews of the women reveal that Weems was a sexual predator with few restrictions. He believed the women under his employ were objects meant to indulge his sexual needs at whim.
Algenia Randle is one of five women who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Weems, her former boss. Randle complained that the pastor sexually assaulted her at St. Academy in Holmes County. The wrongful termination case was settled out of court.
“It has been a long time. We are just glad it is over and are pleased with the outcome. We’re glad that
it’s over. That’s the main thing,” said Randle. Another woman said it’s not over. A Texas woman who decided not to sue described an incident during a church trip.
“When I woke up, Larry Weems was on top of me grinding himself through my clothes and I told him
to get up and get off of me,” said the woman.
Another woman who sued the church wants him held accountable publicly.
“He needs to be registered as a sex offender so people need to know what he is and what he is about,”
said Earnestine Deering who filed a lawsuit. The women claimed they first tried to settle the case with church leaders but did not get far.
“My response was to be fired after they lied and said it would help us and said they would protect us. All we got was fired,” said the woman.
Weems, a married man with 3 adult children, even attacked one woman on the job. Described by her lawyer as a traumatic experience for her client, the woman said: “[Weems] would start out with a conversation and end up with his hands on me in this closet, and pulling my breasts out and spitting on them.”
The attacks came to light in April 2006 during the late G.E. Patterson’s administration. But like all the sexual crimes cases committed by COGIC clergy, not one individual in leadership would even so much as apologize to victims. Victims can expect nothing but cold, arrogant silence from COGIC bishops even when the perpetrator has been found guilty. That’s the culture of cover up and concealment which has allowed the Church of God in Christ to effectively keep its members from discovering the stunning sexual crimes committed by men posing as church leaders. Secret payoffs, which in most cases contain gag restrictions have allowed the church to keep the “dots” separated.
Wolves covering for wolves?
Weems was certainly guilty and knew that going into the trial. Its not clear whether it was his personal lawyer or COGIC lawyers who convinced him at the last minute to take a dive, pay off the women and avoid the trial, but he did.
In the corporate world such crimes would rapidly transition the most promising of careers. But COGIC seems to operate under a different philosophy. Or at least made Larry Weems an exception to its rules.
As mentioned, Weems held a number of national and state positions as well as the local pastorate of a church which doubles as the jurisdictional headquarters. But instead of being disciplined for his egregious actions, Weems still operates as a church pastor and jurisdictional secretary.
The latter is especially troubling. COGIC jurisdictional secretaries have access to personal information on all pastors and members of their respective ecclesiastical territories. Having Weems operate in this position given his crimes presents two severely problematic scenarios. If there are other sexual predators in Mississippi, Weems authority allows him the ability to shield them. His own latent dishonesty certainly brings that into question. Secondly, with Weems in such a position, would he use personal information against others who may be committing sexual immorality?
The hush money trail
Is the church using hard-earned church money, given to them by church elders, women who pay to carry the COGIC name to pay off sex abuse victims in exchange for silence?
In the Weems case, a report by WAPT ABC in Jackson said the victims were prohibited from saying who paid the money to them.
Upon hearing details of the Weems case, one COGIC pastor who asked not to be named, told GCM Watch “if COGIC used national church funds to settle Weem’s sexual abuse case without discipline, I’ll never pay another church report again!” The pastor said that if the national church is using the money paid to them by honest, faithful credential holders, it should be subject to full investigative disclosure.
Although current Presiding Bishop Charles Blake stated in 2007 he would make it a priority to “take positive steps to seriously investigate every case of alleged sexual abuse by the clergy”, he quickly –and without explanation– retracted the statement. It was even scrubbed from COGIC’s official site.
Blake’s removal of his promise may be why so many victims report COGIC leaders refuse to even acknowledge sexual attacks against them. That’s what the women said happened when they reported Weems.
The women claimed they first tried to settle the case with church leaders but did not get far.
“My response was to be fired after they lied and said it would help us and said they would protect us.
All we got was fired,” said the woman.
At least two of the five alleged victims said they have had a hard time finding work. As for Weems, the case was settled and he is still the pastor at Davis Temple and the superintendent of the school. Weems refused to comment on the case. WAPT tried to contact Weems’ bosses, the local superintendent and the bishop of the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, but none of the calls was returned. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount and the victims could not say if the church or the pastor paid them.
In addition to having his sex crimes bills paid, Weems still holds the same positions of authority he had before his crimes. Other than removing him as head of the school, COGIC has given no indication Weems faced any church discipline [read what should happen when COGIC pastors commit sexual malfeasance] for his actions.
In part 2 of this special report, GCM Watch will look at money and the main characters in COGIC culture of cover-up with clergy sexual crimes.