Rev. Bill Hybels stepped down last month, half a year before his planned retirement from Willow Creek Community Church amid accusations of misconduct. Now, the Chicago Tribune reports, church elders are apologizing for casting doubt on the accusers' stories.
The newspaper reports that claims surfaced against Hybels that he engaged in inappropriate conduct with women in his congregation over decades. He was cleared in church inquiries, the Tribune reported last month.
“We have talked to several of them and are deeply saddened by the experiences they are sharing with us,” Pam Orr, the outgoing chair of the church’s elder board, told the congregation, according to the newspaper. “We do believe that we owe these women some apologies. The tone of our first response had too much emphasis on defending Bill and cast some of the women in an unfair and negative light. We are sorry.”
According to a different Tribune report from April, Hybels held back tears as he apologized to churchgoers even though he said he’d been cleared of all accusations.
"I apologize to you, my church, for a response that was defensive instead of one that invited conversation and learning,” he said, according to the Tribune.
He reportedly said he had put himself in positions that he should have avoided but dismissed the allegations as “flat-out lies.”
He had planned to step down in October of 2018 since May of 2012, the newspaper reported.
Executive pastor Heather Larson took over as chief executive of the megachurch.
Willow Creek Community Church is located in South Barrington.