TUCSON (CN) - The former pastor of a Spanish-language evangelical congregation says church officers pushed him out of his job by spreading baseless rumors that he was a "sexual predator" with a history of abusing young girls.
Able Herrera says the board of the Iglesia Evangelica Resurreccion Bautista spread the "entirely false allegation" because they wanted to replace him with the cousin of a powerful church member. Herrera sued the church, five officers and several members in superior court for breach of contract and defamation.
He says he signed a five-year contract to "assume the leadership position of Iglesia Evangelica" in 2007, but about a year ago "one of the church's more influential members sought to remove Mr. Herrera and replace him with the church member's cousin."
When Herrera refused to step down, the rumors began, the lawsuit claims.
"When increased pressure to leave did not result in Rev. Herrera stepping down, the small group of congregation members began making false statements about Rev. Herrera to the church community in an attempt to cause the church community to turn against [him]."
One defendant began telling members to take care of their daughters because Herrera was a "sexual predator" and had "already abused some young girls," the lawsuit claims. Another member spread the rumor that Herrera was "an old man, very sick and not able to work as the church pastor anymore."
Herrera insists there is no truth to the accusations.
"Rev. Herrera has never been accused of even the slightest impropriety toward young girls," the lawsuit claims. "These parishioners made these false statements and breached Rev. Herrera's employment contract solely to gain control of the church, the church finances and the membership."
Church officers eventually forced Herrera to resign, according to the complaint.
He demands back and front pay, retirement benefits and unspecified punitive damages. He is represented by Andrea Watters.
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