Ex-head of religious group acted inappropriately, not criminally: investigation

BY FRANCINE KNOWLES Religion Reporter

June 18, 2014 6:22PM

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Updated: July 21, 2014 3:31PM

A board investigation of the former president of a controversial Oak Brook-based religious and home-schooling organization, who resigned following allegations he sexually harassed teen girls, concluded he acted in an “inappropriate manner.”

But “no criminal activity was discovered” to have been committed by Bill Gothard, according to a statement by the board of directors of the Institute in Basic Life Principles posted on its website.

The board said based on a review conducted by outside legal counsel, it unanimously agreed that “at this time” Gothard “is not permitted to serve in any counseling, leadership or board role within the IBLP ministry.”

That leaves open the question of whether the 79-year-old Gothard may be allowed to return one day as he did after resigning following another sexual scandal years earlier.

The ministry, which Gothard founded, has held seminars reaching millions and includes the home-schooling arm Advanced Training Institute International. It has operations in seven states and 12 countries.

Gothard resigned in March following allegations of harassment posted on the website Recovering Grace. Dozens of women told the site that they were sexually harassed by Gothard with unwanted touching. The three-year-old website was launched to help people who say they were hurt by Gothard and his ministry.

Kari Underwood, co-founder of the site, criticized the board’s statement for failing to mention the harassment allegations and provide any expression of concern for the women who made them. Underwood also expressed concern about any possibility of Gothard’s return.

Gothard said in a Sun-Times interview: “I respect and honor the board, and my number one goal right now . . . is to go back to the ones that I have offended and ask their forgiveness.”

Asked if he engaged in sexual harassment, Gothard said, “Sexual harassment is to a large extent intent, and my intent was never to harass them.” As for whether he has any interest in returning to the institute in a ministerial or leadership capacity, he said, “That’s not my goal or desire right now. I just have a desire to work with and encourage the young people that I have served in the past and I want to continue that on a personal basis.”

The institute faced a major sex scandal in the 1980s, which forced Gothard’s brother, Steve Gothard, to resign as administrative director of what was then called the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts. Steve Gothard was accused of having affairs with several secretaries of the institute, the Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time.

Bill Gothard was accused of knowing about the improprieties and failing to take action. At the time of the scandal, he resigned as president for three weeks then returned.

Email: fknowles@suntimes.com

Twitter: @KnowlesFran

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