(NEW YORK POST) – A Memphis pastor made a startling confession that he had engaged in a “sexual incident” with a high school student 20 years ago – then received a standing ovation from his congregation, according to reports.
“As a college student on staff at a church in Texas more than 20 years ago, I regretfully had a sexual incident with a female high school senior in the church,” Andy Savage said Sunday at Highpoint Church, CBS News reported.
His admission came a few days after Jules Woodson accused Savage of sexually assaulting her during a ride home in 1998 when she was 17 and he was the 22-year-old youth minister at a Houston church.
“I did it because I was scared and I was in shock and I didn’t understand what was happening,” said Woodson, adding that she notified another pastor, who told her to keep quiet.
Woodson described her ordeal on a remote dirt road in a blog post.
“Suddenly, Andy unzipped his jeans and pulled out his penis. He asked me to suck it. I was scared and embarrassed, but I did it. I remember feeling that this must mean that Andy loved me. He then asked me to unbutton my shirt. I did. He started touching me over my bra and then lifted my bra up and began touching my breasts,” she wrote on Watch Keep.
“After what I believe to have been about 5 minutes of this going on, he suddenly stopped, got out of the truck and ran around the back and to my side before falling to his knees. I quickly buttoned my shirt back up and got out of the truck. Now I was terrified and ashamed.
“I remember him pleading, while he was on his knees with his hands up on his head, ‘Oh my god, oh my god. What have I done? Oh my god, I’m so sorry. You can’t tell anyone Jules, please. You have to take this to the grave with you,’” she wrote.
Woodson said she felt compelled to finally speak out in light of the “Me Too” movement sweeping across the country and NBC’s firing of the “Today” show’s Matt Lauer because of sexual misconduct.
She said she emailed Savage last month and he responded Monday — again apologizing.
In his Sunday mea culpa, Savage did not tell the congregation what transpired in 1998, but said he had sinned, taken responsibility for it and never kept it a secret from church leaders, the New York Times reported.
“Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules,” Savage, 42, said during the service. “Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing.”
Church members then stood and applauded him for about 20 seconds.
Highpoint’s lead pastor, Chris Conlee, told the congregation that he supported Savage, who he said was one of the people “hurt by the ripple effect of the consequences of that sin.”
Savage also posted a statement on the church’s website.
“I apologized and sought forgiveness from her, her parents, her discipleship group, the church staff, and the church leadership, who informed the congregation. In agreement with wise counsel, I took every step to respond in a biblical way,” he said.
“I resigned from ministry and moved back home to Memphis. I accepted full responsibility for my actions. I was and remain very remorseful for the incident and deeply regret the pain I caused her and her family, as well as the pain I caused the church and God’s Kingdom.”
In a phone interview with the Times, Woodson said she was stunned to watch Savage’s address to the congregation on video posted to YouTube.
“It’s disgusting,” she said tearfully, adding that she reported the incident on Monday to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, which is just north of Houston.
In Texas, most sexual assault crimes have a statute of limitations that would have expired by now, the paper noted.
“I just hope that by me coming forward that I would give courage to one other person,” Woodson said. “It doesn’t matter if I was his only victim. What matters is that this was a big problem and continues to go on.”
Meanwhile, Christian publishing company Bethany House said Monday that it had canceled the July publication of Savage’s book “The Ridiculously Good Marriage.”
On Amazon, where the book was still available for pre-order as of Wednesday, the description calls Savage a “pastor and relationship coach” who “has been in the trenches of marital hardship.”