Tuesday, June 12, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Woman accuses pastor of sex abuse

The Associated Press

A church with congregations nationwide was sued Monday by a Seattle woman who claims she was sexually abused as a child by one of its pastors.

The pastor, now 79, denied the accusations.

Court documents filed in King County Superior Court allege that the Church of God in Christ, based in Memphis, Tenn., failed to protect the woman from Pastor Charles E. Smith.

The church failed to properly investigate Smith's background, knew or should have known he was a pedophile, and failed to adequately supervise him, the lawsuit contends. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, also names Smith, as well as Smith Temple, one of the church's congregations in Seattle where Smith ministered and that at the time was called Grace Chapel.

Calls to the Church of God in Christ's general counsel in Mitchellville, Md., were not immediately returned Monday.

However, Smith said in a telephone interview Monday night that news reports about the lawsuit were the first he'd heard of the allegations.

Asked if he denied the woman's accusations, he replied, "Yes indeed. I know nothing of it."

He said he is still pastor of a small congregation at Smith Temple.

Court documents allege that Smith sexually molested the woman, now 53, "on numerous occasions in his car and in his office in the chapel."

"Within the past year, [she] has begun to understand that many problems she has had in her life, and continues to have, were caused by Charles Smith having sexually abused her as a child," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit didn't address whether law enforcement was ever involved. Smith said he had never been contacted by law-enforcement officers in regard to such allegations.

The Associated Press agreed not to use the woman's name, in part because she claims to be a victim of sexual abuse. The lawsuit is filed under the name "Jane Doe." The woman said on Monday that she met Smith in the 1950s, when her family moved to the Seattle area and she began attending the church's Smith Bible Academy.

The sexual abuse, she said, began several years later, when she was 12 or 13.

The alleged abuse continued for at least a year before she told anyone. She refused to say who she told.

Eventually, she said, she left the congregation.

The lawsuit states, "Despite knowledge of the abuse, the church defendants did not seek out Charles Smith's victims, when they learned or should have learned of the abuse and did not attempt to mitigate the damage inflicted on them."

Church of God in Christ, a predominantly black Protestant denomination, has about 6 million members worldwide.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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