Court officials say the 80-year-old leader of a suburban Atlanta megachurch pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge he lied under oath. Cobb County Superior Court Judge Frank Cox said Archbishop Earl Paulk of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit at Chapel Hill Harvester Church was sentenced to 10 years probation and a $1,000 fine for the felony charge.
Paulk turned himself in to authorities Tuesday night after a warrant was issued for his arrest the previous day. The charges stem from a deposition Paulk gave as part of a civil lawsuit against him, his brother Don and the church by a former church employee who says she was coerced into an affair.
In a 2006 deposition for the lawsuit, the archbishop said under oath that the only woman he had ever had sex with outside of his marriage was former church worker Mona Brewer.
But the results of a court-ordered paternity test revealed in October that Paulk is the biological father of his brother's son, D.E. Paulk, who is now head pastor at the church. As part of Brewer's lawsuit, eight women have given sworn depositions that they were coerced into sexual relationships with Earl Paulk.
Paulk's attorney, Joel Pugh, said he had been working with Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head for weeks on negotiating a deal.
"It was a fair and just resolution of the case for a man who has lived his whole life and done wonderful things but made a mistake," Pugh said. "He's ready to move on."
Pugh had said earlier the warrant came as a surprise to the Paulk family.
The warrant was the result of a months-long probe by Head and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
‘There are a lot of allegations’
Head called the sentence "certainly adequate" for Paulk, who had never been charged criminally before.
"There are a lot of allegations about things he has done over the past 15 or 20 years," Head said. "In trying to determine what is a fair sentence, I can't look at what he's been alleged to have done in other counties."
Paulk's home and church are in DeKalb County, but the deposition he gave was in an attorney's office in Cobb County.
Cox said the sentence was not unusual for someone like Paulk, who has no prior record and whose health is "frail."
Paulk has been in bad health for the last couple of years after a battle with cancer, limiting his activity with the independent charismatic church he and his brother founded in 1960.
Down from 10,000 members to 1,500
At its peak in the early 1990s, the Cathedral at Chapel Hill claimed about 10,000 members and 24 pastors and was a media powerhouse. The church was able to build a Bible college, two schools, a worldwide TV ministry and a $12 million sanctuary the size of a fortress in Decatur outside Atlanta.
Today membership is down to about 1,500, the church has 18 pastors, most of them volunteers, and the Bible college and TV ministry have shuttered — a downturn blamed largely on complaints about the sexual scandals.