By Eric Gorski – Associated Press Writer
DENVER – Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard’s former church disclosed Friday that the homosexual scandal that caused his downfall extends to a young male church volunteer who reported having a sexual relationship with Haggard – a revelation that comes as Haggard tries to repair his public image.
Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press that the man came forward to church officials in late 2006 shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard.
Boyd said an “overwhelming pool of evidence” pointed to an “inappropriate, consensual sexual relationship” that “went on for a long period of time … it wasn’t a one-time act.” Boyd said the man was in his early 20s at the time. He said he was certain the man was of legal age when it began.
Reached Friday night, Haggard declined to comment and said all interviews would have to be arranged through a publicist for HBO, which is airing a documentary about him this month.
Boyd said the church reached a legal settlement to pay the man for counseling and college tuition, with one condition being that none of the parties involved discuss the matter publicly.
Boyd said a Colorado Springs TV station reached him Thursday to say the young man was planning to provide a detailed report of his relationship with Haggard to the station. Boyd said the church preferred to keep the matter private, but it was the man’s decision to go public.
The disclosure comes as Haggard, 52, is about to give a series of high-profile interviews to promote the cable documentary about his time in exile. He is scheduled to appear on CNN’s Larry King Live on Thursday, the date of the documentary’s premiere, and already has taped “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
In early 2007, New Life Church disclosed that an investigation uncovered new evidence that Haggard engaged in “sordid conversation” and “improper relationships” – but didn’t go into detail. Earlier, a church board member had said there was no evidence that Haggard had sexual relations with anyone but Mike Jones, the former male prostitute.
Haggard confessed to undisclosed “sexual immorality” after Jones’ allegations and resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and from New Life Church, where he faced being fired.
Anticipating criticism of the settlement with the former church volunteer, Boyd said Friday that it was in the best interests of all involved. He would not name the volunteer or the settlement amount.
“It wasn’t at all a settlement to make him be quiet or not tell his story,” Boyd said. “Our desire was to help him. Here was a young man who wanted to get on with his life. We considered it more compassionate assistance – certainly not hush money. I know what’s what everyone will want to say because that’s the most salacious thing to say, but that’s not at all what it was.”
He said that “secondarily, it’s not great for our church either” that the story be told. Boyd said Haggard knew about the settlement two years ago.
In a letter e-mailed Friday to New Life Church members, Boyd said of the settlement and agreement not to talk: “This decision was made not as an attempt to conceal wrongdoings, but to protect him from those who would seek to exploit him. His actions now suggest that he has changed his mind.”
The letter said the church “received reports of a number of incidents of inappropriate behavior” after Haggard’s fall. “In each case, we have tried our very best to do the right thing each time, including disciplinary action when appropriate.”
Boyd said the “inappropriate behavior” referred to the man who was the volunteer involved with Haggard. After Haggard’s fall, another church staff member resigned after admitting to what was described as “sexual misconduct.”
Boyd said the church will not take action against the man if he tells his story in the press.
“We have legal standing to do that, but not the desire to,” he said.
Boyd said he had spoken to the man once and came away with the impression that he was speaking out because of the documentary. “I think what caused this young man to be a bit aggravated was Ted being seen as a victim, when he himself had experienced a great deal of hurt,” Boyd said. “I seriously doubt this man would have come forward if the documentary had not been made.”
In an AP interview this month before an appearance in front of TV critics in California, Haggard described his sexuality as complex and something that can’t be put into “stereotypical boxes.”
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