DENTON – Thepastor of a Denton Baptist church accused in a lawsuit of past sexualabuse of a 14-year-old female member of his congregation has announcedhis retirement, writing that remaining as pastor "is not the rightthing to do."
Larry Reynolds, 59, pastor of Southmont Baptist Church in Denton, wrote his congregation that he will retire effective Dec. 31.
Many members of the church, one of the largest in Denton, received the letters Wednesday.
Dr. Reynolds declined to comment when reached by telephone Wednesday.
"The letter says everything I want it to say," he said.
Dr.Reynolds publicly apologized to a woman last month as part of asettlement agreement to end a lawsuit she filed alleging that he begansexually molesting her when she was 14.
Dr. Reynolds told agroup of members at a church Thanksgiving dinner Nov. 19 that 20 yearsago, he made a "terrible mistake" and that his "lapse in judgment"harmed the woman who filed the suit. The woman is now 37 and lives inHouston.
He asked forgiveness from the woman, the church and God.
The woman's suit against Dr. Reynolds was detailed in the Denton Record-Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News on Sunday.
Amembers-only meeting was held Sunday night at the church, and a meetinghad been scheduled for Wednesday night to discuss his employment withthe church.
"I want to make clear at the very outset of thisletter that this decision was mine and mine alone," Dr. Reynolds saidin the letter.
"Carol [Dr. Reynolds' wife] and I feel veryloved and affirmed by the Southmont family, and we know that I couldcontinue as your pastor indefinitely. However, in the light of theevents of recent days, I simply do not feel that is the right thing todo."
Dr. Reynolds wrote that he has been pastor of the church for28 years and that he wants to avoid a spirit of bitterness, rancor,division or strife in the church.
"I know that some willinterpret my leaving as a tacit admission of all the allegations madeagainst me. It is not; but I realize I cannot help what some choose tobelieve," the letter stated.
In the lawsuit filed in June, theHouston woman also sued the church, the Denton Baptist Association, theBaptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Catherine Herrington, the woman's attorney, said Wednesday that neither she nor her client would comment on the resignation.
Her client signed a confidentiality agreement in the settlement, which included a monetary award.
"Whateverbrought Dr. Reynolds to his decision, it is my sincere hope that bothfamilies will feel loved and affirmed by this body of believers andthat now true healing can begin," said Southmont member Stacy Martin.
R.B. Tanner, a Southmont deacon, and his wife, Joan, issued a written statement.
"Wehave known Dr. Larry Reynolds for a quarter of a century and havealways known him as a man of integrity, honor and Godliness," theTanners wrote.
"It is inconceivable that only one side of thestory has been printed. Larry Reynolds chose to abide by theconfidentiality provision, which the other side clearly did not.
"Larrywill be greatly missed when he retires from the Southmont BaptistChurch. He has been a true pastor to his flock in every sense of theword," the couple wrote.
Gary Loudermilk, executive director ofthe Denton Baptist Association, said Wednesday that each Baptist churchis autonomous and the association has no control over individualchurches.
"We will work with Southmont Baptist Church with anything they may need," Mr. Loudermilk said.
Thewoman's lawsuit asked the state convention to make public a list ofBaptist ministers who either have confessed, been convicted or hadsubstantial evidence presented that they had an improper sexualrelationship.
The convention will respond with a yes or no towritten inquiries from churches about whether a particular minister isincluded in the files.
The files contain cases of marital infidelity as well as cases of sexual abuse of children. No details are provided.
Inresponse to a request for comment about the pastor's retirement, theBaptist General Convention of Texas stated that the association isconcerned about the increasing number of incidents of clergy sexualmisconduct and that the convention wants to be proactive in increasingawareness of the issue and helping churches learn how to screenpotential ministers.
The list is "confidential," – not "secret," according to the statement.
"This process in no way protects perpetrators," the statement continued.
"Information regarding those who have been convicted of sexualmisconduct is published as public information via other sources."
Staff writers Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe and Monty Miller Jr. of the Denton Record-Chronicle contributed to this story.