WCG member and church settle privacy-invasion lawsuit
By Mac Overton
BIG SANDY, Texas--The Worldwide Church of God, headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., reached an out-of-court settlement in March with former Big Sandy WCG employee Colleen Bailey over what the WCG's legal department acknowledged were "professional improprieties" by a former WCG church pastor while he served in the Big Sandy area.
Don Mears, now of Gig Harbor, Wash., oversaw 12 WCG congregations while pastoring the WCG's Big Sandy congregation in the mid- and late '90s.
The director of the WCG's legal office, Ralph Helge of Pasadena, told The Journal that Mrs. Bailey--who served as a secretary for the Big Sandy congregation starting in 1989 and performed other functions and held various other titles, including director of women's ministries and pastoral assistant in the Big Sandy congregation--agreed to an out-of-court settlement in her suit against the WCG, Mr. Mears and other WCG officials, including Joseph Tkach Jr. and Michael Feazell, both of the Pasadena area, and Carn Catherwood of the Big Sandy area.
Neither Mrs. Bailey, her lawyer (Michael Kelly of Dallas) nor Mr. Helge revealed details of the settlement, including whether the WCG must pay the entire agreed-upon amount or whether others named in the original suit must pay any part of the amount.
Invasion of privacy
Mrs. Bailey's original civil suit alleging invasion of privacy was filed Aug. 4, 2000, in Upshur County, Texas. It was later transferred to United States Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall, Texas.
At the time of the suit's filing, Mr. Mears was said to be a resident of Canada, to where he had apparently absconded after Mrs. Bailey contacted local law-enforcement officials and they sought to question him.
As The Journal reported Sept. 30, 2000, Mrs. Bailey filed a civil suit in Texas 115th District Court on Aug. 4 of that year, alleging Mr. Mears invaded her privacy.
At that time she named Mr. Mears and the WCG in the suit.
As reported in The Journal's article, the WCG had assigned Mr. Mears in 1995 to pastor the Big Sandy congregation and ultimately promoted him to regional pastor, assigning him 12 WCG churches to oversee. He continued in that role until July 21, 1999.
In August of 2000 Mrs. Bailey alleged Mr. Mears invaded her right to privacy while she worked at the local WCG administrative office in downtown Big Sandy and in her own home, unbeknownst to her at the time.
The article stated that "the suit further alleges the 'WCG negligently selected and/or continued the employment of pastor Mears, irresponsibly placing him in a position of trust, confidence and authority, in direct contact with parishioners, when WCG knew or should have known, with the exercise of minimum oversight, of Mears' sexual propensities including the willful invasion of Plaintiff's right to privacy."
The article stated that, in spite of Mr. Mears' alleged personal problems, the "WCG continued to transfer him to various churches," the last of which was the Big Sandy WCG in 1995.
The Journal in September 2000 quoted Mrs. Bailey's suit documents as stating that "the WCG and others unnamed at this time, acting in concert, engaged in a plan of action to cover up the incidents of the willful violation of the right of privacy of church members and prevent disclosure, criminal prosecution and civil litigation but not limited to: denial of the willful violation of Plaintiff's right of privacy, spoliation of evidence, reassignment of abusive pastors, religious duress and coercion, failure to seek out and assist victims, and breach of trust and confidence."
The suit alleged that Mr. Mears, on at least one occasion on or about June 7, 1999, "willfully invaded Plaintiff's right to privacy while [she was] at work at WCG's [Big Sandy] administrative office by peering at her from underneath the women's rest-room door, while she was using the facilities. Defendant Mears was on the floor, contorting his head sideways to facilitate his voyeuristic vision."
The suit documents state that, although Mr. Mears initially denied the accusation, he later admitted to the invasion of privacy and confessed that he had lied when he said he had reported the incident to local police.
The suit further alleged that Mr. Mears had gone to Mrs. Bailey's home a few months before the alleged incident, in March 1999, and "leered at her as she was sunbathing, unbeknownst to her at the time. When confronted by the Plaintiff, Defendant [Mr. Mears] unbelievably claimed that he had traveled from Big Sandy to Plaintiff's home to borrow a soup bowl."
Mrs. Bailey further alleged that Mr. Mears had forced her to read anonymous "sexually explicit letters" addressed to Mrs. Bailey as part of her duties in the WCG office.
Mrs. Bailey's suit alleged that, although Mr. Mears initially denied violating her right to privacy, Mr. Mears "finally admitted to Mrs. Bailey, and others, verbally and in writing (on numerous occasions) that he had observed her while she was in the rest room at the Big Sandy Worldwide Church of God . . ."
The suit claimed that several WCG leaders, including Mr. Catherwood, Mr. Feazell and Pastor General Joseph Tkach Jr., knew or should have known that Mr. Mears "had for several years exhibited sexual addictions and/or problems, then ignored the warning signs and failed to remove him from contact with church members . . ."
Paid leave of absence
The suit stated that around June 12, 1999, the Big Sandy congregation of the WCG heard that Pastor Mears was taking a paid leave of absence for personal reasons and that he subsequently moved to Canada but continued to have contact with the Big Sandy WCG congregation and continued to counsel Big Sandyarea members, all with the knowledge and consent of the parent WCG corporation.
The suit alleges that the WCG allowed him to anonymously publish an article in the church's member newsletter, The Worldwide News, and that the church allowed him to launch "an emergency prayer hotline message."
These allegations were to establish the culpability of the WCG and WCG officials as well as Mr. Mears.
The suit alleged that Mrs. Bailey suffered injuries by Mr. Mears' conduct, including "continuing nightmares and distrust of pastors." Her suit claimed that the WCG "effectively condoned, or at the [very] least permitted, Mears' actions by apathetically remaining silent . . ."
The suit alleged that the WCG should have known about Mr. Mears' "sexual propensities" when it appointed him as pastor and that the WCG is "held to a much higher standard" by law because the plaintiff, Mrs. Bailey, had the right to have a relationship of "trust and faith" with the church.
Allegation of fraud
The suit further alleged that the WCG, though it must have known, because of Mr. Mears' history of misconduct in the church, about his "sexual propensities," transferred him to Big Sandy rather than dealing with the issue.
The suit claimed that the WCG committed "fraud" "when it represented that Mr. Mears was a sexually safe pastor when it knew or should have known of his sexually addictive tendencies and fetishes . . ."
Mr. Helge, when mentioning to The Journal that Mr. Mears had "allegedly committed professional improprieties," said the suit had to follow certain preset administrative guidelines, including taking of depositions by both sides, but that after those steps happened "we were able to sit down and talk like civilized people" about settling the suit.
He said that details of the out-of-court settlement would remain confidential.
Mrs. Bailey's attorney, Michael Kelly, did not return recent phone calls from The Journal. Mr. Mears also did not return The Journal's calls.
The Journal: News of the Churches of God is available from P.O. Box 1020, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A., and http://www.thejournal.org. For more information write . To comment on this article or any other article or feature in The Journal or Connections, write . The preceding article or feature is from The Journal, February 25, 2002.
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