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Mountainbrook Church clarifies allegations against former pastor

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The Mountainbrook Church board emailed a letter on Feb. 9 to "bring more clarity" to their process and "acknowledge the women who have been deeply wounded by the behavior" of former pastor Thom O'Leary—a week following O'Leary's resignation.

CLARITY A week after his resignation, former Mountainbrook Church Pastor Thom O'Leary sent a personal letter of "confession, repentance, and request for mercy" to the church staff. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MOUNTAINBROOK CHURCH INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Mountainbrook Church Instagram Account
  • CLARITY A week after his resignation, former Mountainbrook Church Pastor Thom O'Leary sent a personal letter of "confession, repentance, and request for mercy" to the church staff.

That letter was released to the public a day after O'Leary emailed a personal letter to Mountainbrook Church staff that he called a "confession, repentance, and request for mercy." The personal letter was dated Jan. 11 and was sent to staff on Feb. 8 against the direction of the board.

In O'Leary's letter, he states that on Nov. 4, 2019, he and his wife, Sherri, O'Leary were asked to meet with the church board regarding four letters written by Mountainbrook Church staff.

"There were three overall sins brought to my attention: (1) excessive drinking in social settings, (2) overly hugging and touching the butt of three female staff members, and (3) conversationally texting women privately for an extended length of time," the letter stated.

O'Leary wrote that he repented and asked his wife for forgiveness as well as sent letters of apology to the women who "he offended" and their families.

"I am so sorry for the hurt I caused to the Mountainbrook staff, and you the Mountainbrook Church family," the letter read. "Since that time, I have continued to be broken, contrite, embarrassed, and humbled by the offenses."

O'Leary stated in the letter that he and his wife were instructed by the church board to have zero communication with the staff. He also said that while there wasn't an excuse for his failings, there was context: The O'Learys' son had been in a horrible car crash, had a mal seizure where he broke his back, and was later diagnosed with epilepsy. His daughter was helicoptered from San Luis Obispo to Standford Children's Hospital and had an emergency C-section; the same daughter had to stay at the hospital for two months not knowing if the O'Learys' grandson was going to live.

"In addition, there were other traumatic events this past year that we experienced, as well as dealing with a second major home flood, causing much chaos," the letter stated. "All this was combined with the daily stresses of leading our church and staff, including overseeing a multi-million dollar Children Center building project, and the typical, constant, and painful problems of ministry."

In his letter, O'Leary confessed to drinking too much and said he's been in professional counseling to address it. He said it was not his intention to act inappropriately with the women on staff.

"For clarity, although I understand that my actions could very well be perceived otherwise, I was being friendly and never seeking to make sexual advancement," he wrote.

The former pastor confessed to privately texting "various women over the past decade"—conversations that started as pastoral and became more frequent and conversational after.

He also stated that he "may have spent money on personal expenses with a church-issued card."

O'Leary ends his letter by stating what he didn't do. He said he didn't have an adulterous affair, embezzle money, grope or touch any person for sexual pleasure, or come to church intoxicated "as the media tragically and falsely reported on both of those."

In the church board's emailed letter, the board stated that it in no way "meant to dismiss or minimize the impact on the victims in this situation."

According to the board, an outside professional investigator was hired in November of last year who identified a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct from O'Leary—the inappropriate touching of three female staff members and another woman, privately texting women for an extended period of time to a point where it made them feel uncomfortable, excessive drinking, and credit card charges that appeared to be for personal expenses.

The board also had a team of men and women pastors from Vineyard USA come in to review the board's process and to meet with involved parties. The team came to the same conclusion as the board—resignation was necessary.

"We commend the women who came forward to share their stories of experiencing sexual harassment and the effect it has had on them," the board's letter stated. "We stand with them and are committed to their healing and recovery."

The board has provided the individuals involved with support and counseling from professional counselors who specialize in working with victims of sexual assault and harassment.

Mountainbrook Church went through a sexual harassment prevention training in December, and the board is presently updating the church's protocol for reporting such instances to expedite and facilitate bringing issues like this to the surface.

The board is holding an all-church business meeting on March 8 at 3 p.m. that will include reviewing church finances. Δ

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