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Saturday, December 09, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

A pastor's anguished suicide

Pittsburgh — During an emotional meeting yesterday, members of Pittsburgh Presbytery prayed about how they might handle property disputes if some of their congregations leave the denomination and heard a final letter written to them by a pastor who committed suicide after KDKA-TV ran promos for an expose on his sex life.

The letter from the Rev. Brent Dugan, who died in early November, was read by a weeping Rev. James Mead, pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery. It was intended only for members of the presbytery, but a reporter was briefed on its general outline.

In it, Mr. Dugan, pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, apologized for the shame he believed he had brought on the presbytery. He said he had struggled with his sexuality all his adult life, hoping to fall in love with a woman, but concluding he was to devote his life only to his congregation.

He said he did so until four years ago, when he became close friends with a man who claimed to love him, and with whom he had occasional sexual encounters. That man cajoled him into leaving specific kinds of sexual fantasies on his answering machine, and then betrayed him by setting up a meeting at an adult bookstore, where KDKA-TV recorded him, Mr. Dugan wrote.

He urged his fellow pastors to renounce any sins they might be tempted to commit and live pure lives. He also explained that just before KDKA confronted him, he had accepted a call to become pastor of a congregation in Northern California.

The KDKA expose never aired because the station was told that Mr. Dugan had threatened to kill himself, but it's not clear if he ever knew that the station had decided not to run the segment.

"I will ask for an apology [from KDKA] and do what I can do to send a message to leave our pastors alone," Mr. Mead said. He noted that literally hundreds of people would have helped Mr. Dugan and stood by him if he had asked for help. He urged other pastors to reach out if they ever feel desperate.

During an earlier worship service, Mr. Mead asked the 275 clergy and elders to pray about how best to handle property disputes if one or more congregations secedes from the presbytery due to ongoing strife over gay ordination and gay marriage in the Presbyterian Church (USA). "In the end, beloved, you will take a vote -- probably in the next year," he said.

No decisions on the matter were made yesterday.