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Thursday, February 22, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Haggard's dark side appears darker

Ted Haggard’s “dark side” apparently spread farther than anybody thought.

“Numerous individuals” — some of them later described as young male staffers — have outlined what church leaders call a pattern of improper and even “sordid” behavior by the founder and former chief pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Haggard’s former flock learned of the findings Sunday during two morning services, when the overseers of the church read a letter to filled auditoriums.

“We have verified the reality of (Haggard’s) struggle through numerous individuals who reported to us firsthand knowledge of everything from sordid conversation to overt suggestions to improper activities to improper relationships,” the Rev. Larry Stockstill told the congregation.

The presentation, by the head of the church’s board of overseers, was the first comprehensive update since Haggard admitted last November to methamphetamine purchases and “sexual impropriety” involving a male prostitute, Mike Jones.

Among the findings:

  • The letter implied it was fortunate that Haggard was caught when he was. After reviewing the confidential details, church leaders believe that removing Haggard “was not only warranted, but also merciful to him and to the church.”
  • The church’s board of trustees has “fairly and compassionately” decided to financially support the Haggard family through 2007.

It was previously announced that Haggard and his wife Gayle will relocate to another state to continue therapy and pursue psychology degrees.

“Ted will need years of accountability to demonstrate his victory over both actions and tendencies,” the letter said.

During the inquiry, young men working for the church came forward to describe what overseer Mike Ware, pastor of Victory Church in Westminster, Colo., characterized as “loose language, coarse jesting and inappropriate jokes that Ted made.”

While staff members found the behavior odd, no one put the pieces of the puzzle together.

“If (the conduct) had been overt,” Ware said, “we would have been addressing this long before Mike Jones.”

Another overseer, the Rev. Tim Ralph of New Covenant Fellowship in Larkspur, Colo., said he was “misquoted” recently as saying Haggard was “completely heterosexual.” He said he meant to say that therapy “gave Ted the tools to help to embrace his heterosexual side.”

Church members interviewed accepted the letter’s call for compassion. When it comes to understanding Haggard, said John Simmonds, “There are lots of empty spaces, but I’m not trying to fill them in. Honor Pastor Ted as a man and leave it at that.”