Aug. 9 (UPI) -- The pastor and multiple elders at one of the largest churches in the United States have resigned over backlash from sexual misconduct allegations against the church's founder.
The scandal involves Evangelical Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels, who resigned four months ago amid misconduct accusations that dates back decades. The accusations include suggestive comments, hugs, unsolicited kissing and invitations to hotel rooms.
Late Wednesday, Elder Missy Rasmussen announced the resignation of lead pastor Heather Larson and elders, and apologized for their handling of the complaints.
"Today I stand before you broken," Rasumussen said in a statement. "These painful and troubling events have scarred these women, their families, and tarnished our church."
"We viewed the allegations through the lens of trust we had in Bill, and this clouded our judgement," she added. "We are so sorry."
Among more recent claims, former Hybel assistant Pat Baranowski said she was repeatedly harassed and fondled by Hybels in the 1980s.
"We are also deeply grieved about the new accusations that came to light this past weekend, and our collective hearts break for the pain that Ms. Baranowski has carried these many years," Rasmussen said.
Founded by Hybels in 1975, the Willow Creek Community Church is believed to be one of the largest in the United States, with nine locations in Illinois.
In 2011, the church was accused of opposing the LGBT community. In response, Hybels said the Bible calls for "sexual abstinence and purity for everyone."
He stepped down in April over the controversy, but has denied the accusations, calling them "flat-out lies."
Larson said the Chicago-based church needs a "fresh start."
"As hard as I have tried, I simply have not been able to get the momentum that we need to address the issues that need to be addressed and to bring about the fresh start," she said.
Steve Gillen, regional campus pastor, will fill in as interim pastor.
"We are doing an unfortunate dance of grief and sadness, and I am praying for the day when we are overwhelmed with joy again," he said.