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Woman who accused Gateway Church founder Robert Morris of sexual assault speaks out: "I was a little girl"

Woman who accused Gateway Church founder Robert Morris of sexual assault says he told her to keep quiet
Woman who accused Gateway Church founder Robert Morris of sexual assault says he told her to keep quiet 02:45

SOUTHLAKE – Since its founding in 2000, Gateway Church, based in Southlake, has grown to become one of the country's largest congregations with about 100,000 people attending its nine campuses every weekend. Founder and senior pastor Robert Morris reaches even larger audiences in a weekly program streamed online and broadcast in more than 190 countries.

And for more than 40 years, Cindy Clemishire — who said Morris took advantage of her as a child — has watched his influence grow.

"It's been pretty devastating," she said.

Clemishire was 12 years old when, she said, Morris began molesting her.

In 1982, Morris was working as a traveling preacher. He and his wife were friends with Clemishire's parents and would often stay at their home.

She said the abuse continued for four and a half years.

"He said, 'You can never tell anyone because it will ruin everything,'" she said.

In a statement released by Gateway Church over the weekend, Morris admitted to what he described as "inappropriate sexual behavior" with a "young lady" for several years in his twenties.

Clemishire said his words downplay what really happened.

"Young lady? I was not a young lady. I was a little girl. I was 12," she said.

Morris' admission came after a blog called The Wartburg Watch Friday published Clemishire's account of abuse.

Clemishire said she's spoken about what happened for years, even having an attorney contact the church in 2005 to request reimbursement for counseling, but this was the first time the details have appeared publicly.

"For the first time, it felt a relief that the world was seeing the truth," she said.

In his statement, Morris described encounters that included "kissing and petting … not intercourse."

Under current law, that's behavior that could qualify as continuous sexual abuse of a young child, a crime punishable by life in prison.

No criminal charges, though, have ever been filed in this case, and it's likely the statute of limitations has run out on any that might have been.

Clemishire said she eventually reported the abuse to her father who demanded Morris step down from his position at Shady Oaks Church, which later became Gateway's Grand Prairie campus.

Morris said he did step down for two years. He returned to the pulpit in 1989 "with the full blessing of the Elders."

"The two-year restoration process was closely administered by the Elders at Shady Grove Church and included him stepping out of the ministry during that period while receiving professional counseling and freedom ministry counseling," church elders said in a statement. 

"Since the resolution of this 35-year-old matter, there have been no other moral failures. Pastor Robert has walked in purity and accountability in this area."

Decades later, Clemishire is still hoping for consequences.

"Oh, I definitely think the consequences are probably starting. I mean, people know the truth. I know that there's got to be consequences," she said. "How on earth could anyone let him be in leadership when they knew what he did to me?"

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