Bishop Earl Paulk, a charismatic preacher brought down by a series of sex scandals, has died. He was 81.
Paulk died near midnight Saturday at the Atlanta Medical Center, a nursing supervisor confirmed to CNN. The bishop had been at the hospital for several days, she said. Paulk’s death came after an “extended and horrible battle with cancer,” Paulk’s nephew, Bishop Jim Swilley, wrote in a blog post. Paulk founded the Chapel Hill Harvester Church in Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta. It quickly grew to become one of the first megachurches in the country. Paulk also had his own television show. But his success as a preacher was overshadowed time and again by allegations of sexual impropriety. One allegation ended in a civil suit that was settled out of court in 2003. The accuser said Paulk molested her when she was a child. A second woman claimed the bishop forced her into a 14-year affair. She filed, withdrew and refiled a suit. Dennis Brewer, an attorney for Paulk, admitted to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Paulk had a brief adulterous relationship with the woman, but said she was the initiator. During a deposition in the case, the bishop said under oath the woman was the only one he slept with outside of marriage. But a court-ordered paternity test showed that he also fathered a child with his sister-in-law. Other allegations — some true, some unfounded — cost the church membership, as worshippers dwindled from 10,000 to about 1,000. “As most of you know, my family has been walking through a very long nightmare season in connection with things concerning him,” Swilley wrote in his blog post. “Please pray for some much needed healing and closure for us all.”