Disgraced Hillsong NYC lead pastor Carl Lentz was fired last year after it came to light he’d had a string of extramarital affairs. Now a woman who worked as a nanny for his family for seven years has come forward with allegations that he sexually abused her.
Leona Kimes, a current pastor at the megachurch, claims that when she worked as a nanny for the Lentz family, she discovered that the charismatic preacher, who for a time served as popstar Justin Bieber’s spiritual advisor, was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Leona says she was subjected to “manipulation, control, bullying, abuse of power, and sexual abuse” while working in the Lentz household. In an email shared with Religious News Service and an essay titled, Writing My Voice Back on Medium, she detailed her experiences.
Leona says she was forced to work 12-hour-plus days and had to put up with Lentz flirting with her and teasing her. That behaviour escalated to inappropriate staring and intimate touching, she claims.
“While he never had intercourse with me and never kissed me, I was physically violated by his unwanted and repeated sexual touching of my intimate areas. I froze. Every time, I froze,” she says. “He suggested accompanying me to a movie with the kids and sat next to me and touched me in the dark, even though we were surrounded by people. Again, I froze.”
Leona also alleges that the former pastor would ask her to give him foot rubs and would regularly make unwelcome remarks, like “after you have kids, we’ll buy you a boob job”.
A lawyer for Lentz and his wife, Laura, on whom he’s admitted cheating, told Religion News Service they "vehemently deny the allegations and, in addition to that, have irrefutable proof the events did not happen as they are being described".
But Leona isn’t backing down.
“I felt like [the Lentzes] needed me to care for their family so they could focus on their hard life of being lead pastors, and I was determined not to fail them,” she says. “I didn’t speak up. I felt uncomfortable and I also felt guilty for feeling uncomfortable. I wondered if I was the problem, and I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me, anyway.”
She says on two occasions she tried addressing the matter with Lentz and his wife but says she was "blamed and silenced".
“I was told that if his reputation was ruined, my reputation would be too,” she says.
Leona, who is now the co-pastor at Hillsong’s Boston church, and her husband, Josh, moved from Australia to the US 10 years ago to help set up new branches of the world-famous church. Hillsong was founded in Australia in the 1980s and has 131 locations across the world as well as a vast multimedia operation.
Lentz, who baptised Bieber and presided at his official marriage to Hailey Baldwin in 2019, was fired from the church last year. His wife, who also worked at Hillsong, was also dismissed.
This was after Ranin Karim, a 34-year-old jewellery designer and actress, spilled the beans in the media about their steamy love affair. It then emerged that there’d been other women and what the church described as “more than one significant affair” – to which Laura reportedly turned a blind eye.
It cited the reason for his removal as “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures”.
Appearing on the US Today Show, Hillsong’s founder Brian Houston addressed the scandal head-on.
"Carl was Carl. He's a unique character. There's a lot of things I miss about Carl. But having said that, there were leadership issues that I believe included lying, included what I would call narcissistic behaviour," he said, adding that Lentz’s behaviour had bothered him over the years.
"I think there's a lot of things I should've known earlier, and hopefully, moving forward, we'll make sure we have far better systems in place and better accountability," he said.
SOURCES: TODAY.COM, PEOPLE.COM, LEONAKIMES.MEDIUM.COM, RELIGIONNEWS.COM, EONLINE.COM