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Sexual harassment claims against ex-megachurch pastor Bill Hybels are credible, report finds

A four-person panel also concluded board members of his former congregation, Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, had been "unable to provide effective oversight" of him.

It concluded: "The credibility of the allegations would have been sufficient for Willow Creek Community Church to initiate disciplinary action if Bill Hybels had continued as pastor of the church."

Willow Creek initially denied claims published in the US media - including alleged sexual impropriety by Bill Hybels with a former assistant.

As more women came forward, Hybels resigned, though he continued to deny the accusations. Willow Creek launched an investigation.

An Independent Advisory Group (IAG) spent six months scrutinising the allegations, as well as the response of Willow Creek Church and the Willow Creek Association.

Willow Creek D/CH. License CC BY 2.0

Members included Jo Anne Lyon, former general superintendent of The Wesleyan Church and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The other two participants were Margaret Diddams, provost of Wheaton College and Gary Walter, ex-president of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago.

The IAG said its conclusions were reached after conducting "multiple interviews" and a "broad review of documents and information".

It also concluded Hybels "verbally and emotionally intimidated" both female and male employees. Problems at Willow Creek were confined to Hybel, it suggested.

It stated: "The corporate culture issues [at the church and association] were primarily related to the presence and leadership of their shared founder and are not necessarily pervasive in the future of the church and association."

The 17-page document recommends Hybels undergo counselling. It concludes Willow Creek Church ought to foot the bill of counselling for people "directly harmed by their interactions with Bill Hybels".

Deigo Delso/Wikimedia Commons

It also says both the church and association should adopt "written polices" which set out appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

Willow Creek's elder board said it would review the report.

In a statement, it added: "While we cannot change the events of the past, we grieve what has happened, ask for forgiveness, and commit ourselves to pursuing healing and reconciliation."

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