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Rev. Moomaw Back in Pulpit After Suspension

Ministry: Pastor resigned in 1993 because of sexual misconduct charges. Some restrictions remain, Presbyterian officials say.

July 26, 1997|JOHN DART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rev. Donn Moomaw, a nationally known clergyman disciplined two years ago for "sexual misconduct" with five women while he was pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church on Mulholland Drive has returned to active ministry at a San Diego County congregation with the blessings of Presbyterian officials.

Moomaw, once an All-American linebacker at UCLA, was best known as former President Ronald Reagan's pastor when he resigned in 1993 after 29 years at Bel Air, saying he had "stepped over the line of acceptable behavior with some members of the congregation."

The Presbytery of the Pacific, the regional body with jurisdiction in his case, decided that he had fulfilled the requirements of his suspension, including signs of full repentance, the Rev. Charles Doak, the administrator of the presbytery, said this week.

"He is still barred from one-on-one counseling with women, and a few other restrictions are still in place," Doak said.

The Presbytery of the Pacific gave permission, through the Presbytery of San Diego, for Moomaw to accept the interim pastor position at the 800-member Village Community Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe.

"I believe that some of my best work might be ahead of me," Moomaw, 65, said this week in a brief telephone interview.

This month he was the guest preacher at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, a prominent Newport Beach congregation. He spoke on the account in the Gospel of Matthew of the apostle Peter's remorse after he denied three times that he was a follower of Jesus.

"Peter fell, then he had a recall. . . . Some of the best leaders have been people who have been wounded," he said.

After two years of secrecy, regional church officials announced March 14, 1995, that Moomaw had pleaded no contest to church charges of engaging in "repeated instances of sexual contact"--not described further--from 1983 to 1992 and of violating a previously undisclosed 1990 agreement with the church barring him from counseling women.

Church officials never disclosed the nature of the contacts.

Moomaw was ordered by the Presbytery of the Pacific officials to undergo therapy and meet monthly with a church committee. The church ruling declared that he could be reinstated Jan. 1, 1997, if his rehabilitation was considered successful.

Moomaw, who rejected offers to play professional football when he entered seminary, served a congregation in Berkeley before becoming pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian in 1964. He was the only clergyman invited to offer prayers at Reagan's first presidential inauguration in 1981 and was one of four at the 1985 inauguration.

Moomaw said this week that he has had to learn how to cope without the praise he had been used to earlier in his life.

"I've been in the limelight ever since junior high; in football I'd hear my name chanted over and over by a crowd," he said. "If you get your strokes and validation that way, it can become a very seductive way to live."

But the rehabilitative process has been successful, he said.

Declining to talk about the events that led to the church disciplinary actions, Moomaw said: "I'm so enjoying the reentry that the past is pretty insignificant to who I am right now. . . .

"We have closure on all of this and don't feel a need at this time to publicly rehearse it any further."

Reaction in Presbyterian circles to Moomaw's return to the ministry is mixed, said Doak of the Pacific Presbytery.

"Some people are very supportive, and others raise questions about his continued role," Doak said. "I think the majority say he's taken responsibility for his life and has done that which the church required."

Officials of the Rancho Santa Fe congregation did not respond to requests for comment.

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