An Elder with Gateway Church in Texas says he is sorry to both the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of the church's founder, as well as to members of the congregation who are victims of abuse from others.

“Firstly, I'd like to express my personal compassion for Cindy Clemishire. I can't imagine carrying a burden like that for so many years, and I want to say to you, Cindy, I'm so sorry. I'm also very sensitive to anyone else in this room or anyone who is listening who [has] experienced abuse,” Tra Willbanks said, according to the Christian Post.

Willbanks spoke to the congregation from the stage this past Sunday, addressing the recent allegations that have rocked not only Gateway but the wider Church in North America.

“I know that there are many in this room at our other campuses and many watching online who have their own horrific abuse story and I want to speak to you. I'm so sorry. I'm just so sorry. I cannot imagine the pain and the emotions this past week has stirred inside of you as you felt betrayed. And on behalf of the elders, we're sorry."

In mid-June Morris, who is a well-known megachurch pastor in Texas, confessed that he was involved "in inappropriate sexual behaviour with a young lady" in the 1980s while he was in his twenties and married. Morris stressed that there was no sexual intercourse involved, however, he failed to mention that the "young lady" was, in fact, a 12-year-old girl when the abuse started.


The victim, Cindy Clemishire, now a 54-year-old grandmother, shared details of what happened with the Wartburg Watch. Clemishire explained that the first incident occurred on Christmas day in 1982 and sporadically continued when Morris stayed with the family for four more years.

Morris resigned from the Southlake, Tex., church on June 18. At the time of his resignation, the church's board said in a release that it did not have the full story when it came to Morris' behaviour. He had described a moral failing when he was in his twenties with "inappropriate behaviour" with a "young lady," failing to disclose that the victim was actually a 12-year-old child when the abuse began. However, Clemishire said in a release that the church in fact had known for nearly 20 years, after she and her lawyer sent an email to Morris and the church's elders in 2005.

Willbanks says that he did not know Morris had been accused of abuse. The Christian Post reports that he has been an elder at the church since 2014 and has attended the church for a total of 18 years.

“I'm going to try to speak to you from my heart today, so I wrote my thoughts down to make sure I say exactly what I want to say. My wife, Shelley, and I have seven children, including six girls. As a father, what has happened is extremely disturbing, and I'm experiencing a wide range of emotions, like you. As an elder, I did not know the truth, and frankly, like so many of you, my wife and I are shocked, devastated and grieving,” Willbanks said.

The elder said that he doesn't "know what God's plans are" concerning the future of the church, "but I know that I'm going to continue to worship the Lord. And I'm going to worship the Lord in this place. Jesus said I will build my church,” he added. “I want to remind you this is His church. This is Jesus' Church, and the elders are humbly and firmly submitted to what He wants to do with this church.”