Woman abused by Gateway Church pastor as child calls for other survivors to come forward

The woman who said she was sexually abused as a child by now-former Gateway Church head pastor Robert Morris has mixed feelings about his resignation from the church.

She’s glad he’s no longer the pastor of the North Texas megachurch that he founded, but doesn’t like the way he departed.

“Though I am grateful he is no longer a pastor at Gateway, I am disappointed that the board of elders allowed him to resign,” Cindy Clemishire wrote in a statement released by her attorney Boz Tchividjian. “He should have been terminated.”

Now Clemishire, who told the religious watchdog blog The Wartburg Watch that from 1982-1987 Morris abused her starting when she was 12 and ending when she was 16, after he was caught, says she doesn’t believe she is the only victim.

Morris resigned Tuesday after calls for his removal from ministry by elected leaders who were disturbed by his actions. He admitted in a statement released by the church that the abuse happened.

Morris referred to Clemishire in his statement as a “young lady” and said that he kissed her and touched her but that there was no intercourse. The church’s board of elders said that they were unaware of the details of the abuse and that Morris had talked in the past about an affair he had without revealing that the “affair” was actually the sexual abuse of a child.

Clemishire said in her statement that she had previously reported her abuse to church officials. She emailed Morris and got a response from a church elder in 2005, acknowledging the receipt of her email, she said. She also said a former attorney representing her contacted Morris in 2007 seeking reimbursement for years of counseling she had to undergo because of the abuse.

“His attorney acknowledged the dates as well and then attempted to blame me for the abuse,” Clemishire wrote in her statement. “At the very least, both the Gateway pastor and at least one elder had specific notice that I was sexually abused beginning when I was 12 years old. Gateway had the information but intentionally decided to embrace the false narrative Robert Morris wanted them to believe.”

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Morris said in the statement released by Gateway Church that after the abuse was discovered in 1987, he was removed from ministry by Shady Grove Church, where he worked at the time, and went to “freedom ministry.”

On its website, Gateway Church describes its own freedom ministry as religious counseling to “undo the works of the devil in the lives of individuals,” including exorcism.

Morris said he spoke with church elders and Clemishire’s father and that he returned to ministry with their “blessing” in 1989.

Gateway Church started with 180 members in a Grapevine hotel in 2000 and has grown to more than 39,000 active members at its home campus in Southlake and at satellite churches across Dallas-Fort Worth, from North Richland Hills to Grand Prairie to Frisco.

The church’s elders said in Tuesday’s statement that they are thankful the abuse has been exposed, “for the sake of the victim.”

“We know how many have been affected by this, we understand that you are hurting, and we are very sorry,” the board said in its news release. “It is our prayer that, in time, healing for all those affected can occur.”

Morris’ resignation came after elected leaders across Texas called for him to resign and said he should face consequences for his actions.

John Huffman, former mayor of Southlake, apparently took issue with Morris’ characterization of Clemishire as a “young lady” at that time.

“Years ago, he ruined a 12 year old girl’s life. She was not a young lady, but a child,” Huffman wrote in a post on X on Tuesday morning. “He should have spent time in jail, but he didn’t.”

Gateway Church said it has retained Haynes & Boone, a Fort Worth law firm, to run an independent investigation into abuse between 1982 and 1987.

A spokesperson for Haynes & Boone confirmed to the Star-Telegram that the firm has been hired to conduct the investigation but released no other information.

Clemishire quoted her attorney in her Thursday statement as saying that the investigation isn’t enough. Haynes & Boone handles crisis management, according to its website. That worries Tchividjian, who is also unsatisfied with the decision to limit the investigation to the time during which Clemishire was abused. He said the investigation should include Morris’ entire tenure at Gateway Church.

Clemishire urged any other victims to speak up.

“I encourage anyone who has been sexually victimized by a leader at Gateway Church to take the bold step forward and say something. Now is the time,” she wrote.

She said that anybody who comes forward will have support.

“I hope and pray that the leadership at Gateway Church will echo this encouragement knowing that this can be an opportunity to find the truth while providing help and restitution to victims,” she wrote.

Clemishire said she’s heartbroken for the congregation who trusted Morris and encouraged them to keep their faith despite his actions.