|Ex-Pastor, Presbytery, Church Targets of Suit
Former Member Says She Wants $40m for Sexual Abuse, Distress
By Jim Balloch
September 21, 2008
[with links to the law suit, the pastor's admission of guilt and the church judicial commission's formal censure of the pastor]
LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. — As pastor of First Presbyterian Church of LaFollette for 17 years, Malcolm M. King III was highly regarded in the community.
Ericka McCarty was a mentally unstable young woman who turned to him for counseling.
Instead, by his own admission, he sexually abused her, according to documents.
And now, King, his church and the Presbytery of East Tennessee are defendants in a $40 million Campbell County Circuit Court lawsuit that alleges that in addition to the sex abuse, he took over McCarty's finances, made her "utterly dependent upon him" and even moved her into the church parsonage.
McCarty, now 22, is undergoing extensive psychiatric counseling as a result of King's "repeated acts of sexual assault and battery, harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress," attorney David Dunaway said in the lawsuit filed last month.
McCarty's family were longtime members of the church. She had known King since she was 5 years old and "looked to him as a mentor and counselor," the lawsuit states. When she went to him in May 2006 for spiritual counseling, he knew she had been diagnosed with emotional disorders and was suicidal.
The sexual abuse began in July 2006 and continued through November 2007, the lawsuit states. No criminal charges have been filed.
McCarty's existing mental disability predisposed her to believe King when he told her that such things as disrobing for him and allowing him to examine and touch her body were "therapeutic," the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, the young woman would not have been mentally competent to enter into a consensual sexual relationship.
"Ericka McCarty suffered a nervous breakdown, was hospitalized on at least five occasions, was placed in mental health rehabilitation for at least 49 days, has sustained mental suffering from the sexual misbehavior of (King) which she endured," the lawsuit states. "She remains active in treatment, she is mentally disabled. She is unable to work or hold a job now or in the future, has incurred medical expenses as a result of the acts of the defendants, and will in the future need continued and expert medical care for the remainder of her life."
King, 58, has confessed to sexual misconduct with McCarty and has resigned as pastor of the church, according to documents.
"I am guilty of clergy sexual misconduct," he said in a statement to the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of East Tennessee. "I engaged in sexually inappropriate conversation and consensual sexual contact of kissing and sexual touching with a church member, Ericka McCarty, while acting as her pastor and counselor. I have participated in actions that have violated my vows to God, my vows to my wife, and my commitment to my church … I am very sorry, deeply sorry, for the hurt I have caused and the suffering others have experienced due to my failure."
According to church documents filed as exhibits in the lawsuit, when the allegations were initially made, King "continued his pattern of deception and arrogance by failing to quickly acknowledge his behavior. His deception extended to church members as he involved them in his difficulties and gave the false impression that he was being unjustly accused by a troubled and morally compromised young woman."
When the Presbytery did bring a formal action, the documents state, King "(continued) to believe that his behavior toward (McCarty) has largely been helpful and … that his ability to minister to his congregation should go on. (He) does not appreciate the consequences or damage caused by his behavior."
The Presbytery of East Tennessee has formally removed King from its ministry for at least five years and ordered him to undergo extensive counseling and rehabilitation. If he is successful in that, he can seek reconfirmation as a minister, which is not guaranteed.
The lawsuit, filed by McCarty's father and conservator Siler McCarty, alleges that church authorities initially did not take the complaints seriously, told Ericka McCarty that she "must be crazy" and did not follow the The Presbyterian Church USA policy on such situations.
None of the defendants has filed a formal answer to the complaint.
Carl Schlich, Interim Executive Presbyter and Stated Clerk for the Presbytery of East Tennessee, said he could not comment on the lawsuit or the Presbytery's investigation and censure of King.
Jim Balloch may be reached at 865-342-6315.
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