MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis church says it is investigating “severe allegations” of sexual abuse against a former pastor dating back two decades. Woodland Presbyterian Church on Park Avenue notified its membership of the allegations and the ensuing investigation Sunday.
At this time the church is aware of four alleged victims.
WMC Action News 5 has learned the men are now adults in their late 30s and early 40s. The church is bringing in an independent firm to conduct an investigation, and they have encouraged the men to filed reports with Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
“It’s been a devastating thing for me personally, for our whole church to understand and try to wrap our head around this,” said Matt Miller, senior pastor of Woodland Presbyterian Church.
In recent days, four men told leadership at Woodland Presbyterian Church about sexual abuse they say they suffered at the hands of a former pastor who led the church for 18 years. WMC Action News 5 is not naming that former leader, who has been identified by the church, because no criminal charges have been filed.
“We’ve made it a top priority to understand the nature of the allegations and to be as transparent as possible,” said Miller.
Miller is the church’s current pastor and he says no one currently on the church staff was there when the alleged abuse took place.
He put out a letter to church members and notified them after Sunday’s worship service, along with passing information to families at the church’s elementary and middle school. The school is located on the same property as the church.
“We are encouraging anyone who knows anything about this to let us know, to come forward, to give us any information,” he said.
Miller says Woodland has taken immediate steps, including reaching out to churches the former pastor has a relationship with, talking to alleged victims and encouraging them to contact police and hiring a third-party investigator among other measures.
WMC Action News 5 spoke with two of the alleged victims by phone Monday. Three of the four men live out of state and one lives in the Memphis area.
The men say church leadership was approached with the allegations years ago but nothing was done.
“We don’t know the answers to that,” said Miller.
Miller says the church’s response -- or lack thereof two decades ago -- will be included in the third-party investigator’s probe.
The alleged victims say the abuse occurred at the former pastor’s house when they were teens. One of the victims told WMC Action News 5 they have been in contact with the Memphis Police Department.
The church is holding a meeting Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. regarding the allegations.