Granddaughter Accuses Megachurch Leader of Sexual Abuse

By Dorie Turner
December 18, 2007

ATLANTA — Add an adult granddaughter to the list of women who say the leader of a suburban Atlanta megachurch sexually abused them or coerced them to have sex.

Penielle "Penie" White first told WAGA-TV last week and told The Associated Press on Monday that Archbishop Earl Paulk, 80, co-founder of Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church, touched her inappropriately when she was about 8 years old. She said she made the allegations in a sworn deposition a few months ago as part of a lawsuit against Paulk, who is accused by a former church member of coercing her into a sexual relationship.

Paulk has been hit by multiple lawsuits, but does not face criminal charges.

"He started out playful, tickling and sort of fondling," White said in a phone interview. "But as a child, you don't know that's what he's doing."

White said she also was present when her grandfather fondled Jessica Battle, another young member of the church, who later sued Paulk in 2001 for molestation and rape. That case was settled out of court two years later.

Matt Wilkins, one of Paulk's attorneys, denied White's allegations.

"They surprised him," Wilkins said of the on-air interviews given by White and her mother - Paulk's daughter, Beth Bonner. "He spent Thanksgiving at Beth Bonner's house, and Penie was there. They had a loving family Thanksgiving."

Bonner, however, said the family had a meal together on the Saturday following Thanksgiving so that they could be with Paulk's wife, Norma, who refuses to go anywhere without her husband.

"They make it like we were all in family unity, and we weren't," said Bonner, who left her father's church in 1992.

White's assertion marks only one in a long string of sexual allegations to plague the Paulks. At least three women have sued Earl Paulk and his brother, Don Paulk, over alleged sexual misconduct.

In October, the results of a court-ordered paternity test revealed that Paulk is the biological father of his brother's son, D.E. Paulk, who is now head pastor at the family's church. A judge ordered the test at the request of the Cobb County district attorney's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which are investigating Earl Paulk for possible perjury and false-swearing charges stemming from a lawsuit.

The archbishop, his brother and the church are being sued by former church employee Mona Brewer, who says Earl Paulk manipulated her into an affair from 1989 to 2003 by telling her it was her only path to salvation. Earl Paulk admitted to the affair in front of the church last January.

In a 2006 deposition stemming from the lawsuit, the archbishop said under oath that the only woman he had ever had sex with outside of his marriage was Brewer. But the paternity test said otherwise.

As part of Brewer's lawsuit, eight women have given sworn depositions that they were coerced into sexual relationships with Earl Paulk.

So far no criminal charges have been filed against Earl Paulk. GBI spokesman John Bankhead referred questions to Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head, who did not return a call for comment Monday.

The church began in 1960 with just a few dozen members. 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 - a downturn blamed largely on complaints about the alleged sexual scandals.


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