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Robert Morris’ Lawyer Blamed the 12-Year-Old Girl for Initiating Sexual Conduct

Robert Morris’ Lawyer Blamed the 12-Year-Old Girl for Initiating Sexual Conduct

New details are emerging about Robert Morris, the Gateway Church pastor who resigned from the megachurch he founded last month after an allegation that he had sexually abused a young girl for several years beginning when she was just 12 years old in 1980.

NBC News reported today that the victim, Cindy Clemshire, who is now 54, actually retained legal counsel in 2007 and pursued restitution of $50,000 from Morris to cover her counseling costs.

A letter penned by her attorney, Gentner Drummond, at the time detailed how Morris manipulated Clemishire into believing their relationship was special and secret.

However, Morris’ lawyer, J. Shelby Sharpe, responded with accusations that Clemishire, then a child, was the one who initiated the sexual behavior.

“It was your client who initiated inappropriate behavior by coming into my client’s bedroom and getting in bed with him, which my client should not have allowed to happen,” Sharpe wrote in a February 2007 letter.

Sharpe’s response also attempted to discredit Clemishire, alleging she had acted inappropriately with other men and confessing her conduct to a church member. Clemishire has vehemently denied these claims, stating that she was a victim, not an initiator. Clemishire refused Morris’ counteroffer of $25,000 because she was unwilling to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Sharpe told NBC News that he had no recollection of the settlement offer or NDA demand and that he no longer represents Morris. He also denied knowing at the time that Clemishire had been a child when Morris began engaging in sexual behavior with her. However, the initial correspondence Drummond sent to him clearly stated that Clemishire was 12 when the abuse began.

“I don’t ever remember seeing that,” Sharpe told NBC after a reporter read the document to him. “I can tell you that the letters that you’ve seen, they speak for themselves.”

Sharpe has also served as a personal attorney to Paige Patterson, a Southern Baptist Convention leader accused of mishandling or concealing sexual assault claims that date all the way back to the 1980s.

The fallout from Clemishire’s recent accusations has been swift. Within days of her story re-emerging online last month, Morris resigned as senior pastor. Gateway Church’s elders quickly distanced themselves from Morris, claiming they were aware Morris had an extramarital relationship, but were unaware Clemishire was a child during the abuse. Gateway has hired an outside law firm to further investigate the matter, and several church officials, including Morris’ son James, have taken leaves of absence in the meantime.

“The elders of Gateway Church learned that Pastor Robert’s moral failure from more than forty years ago involved a minor,” the board of elders of Gateway Church and the overseers of Pastor Robert Morris Ministries said in a joint statement posted on the Robert Morris Ministries homepage Wednesday. “We are heartbroken and grief-stricken for this woman who has carried this burden of abuse for decades. Pastor Robert’s sin and his lack of transparency to the church’s elders and leadership has disqualified him from continuing in his role as senior pastor at Gateway Church and as leader of Pastor Robert Morris Ministries. As a result, all future radio and television broadcast ministry from Pastor Robert Morris Ministries has been canceled.”

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