Pastor who failed to report Andy Savage sexual assault allegation resigns

A pastor who failed to report the sexual assault allegation against the Memphis pastor Andy Savage of Highpoint Church has resigned his position at a church in Austin, Texas, USA Today reported.

Larry Cotton, who was the pastor to whom the victim Jules Woodson reported what had taken place between her and Savage in 1998, announced his resignation from The Austin Stone Community Church last week, saying in a letter to church members that he decided to step down from his ministry leadership position after coming to understand 'the weight of my mistakes'.

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Cotton wrote: 'I now understand that I did not do enough to serve Jules and help her feel protected and cared for. I understand that I failed to report the sexual abuse – I wish I had reported to the proper authorities.'

Meanwhile, Savage remains on leave from his ministry position at Highpoint Church pending an investigation which is expected to conclude by March 1. Savage has said that he will abide by the wishes of church leadership once the investigation is complete.

However, Savage has received support from leaders at Highpoint, who said they were aware of the Texas case before Savage was hired, and church members gave Savage a standing ovation after he spoke about the case shortly after it emerged into the public eye in January.

Savage was youth pastor at Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in Houston and Woodson was a 17-year-old high school senior when the incident occurred.

In an account originally published on the website The Wartburg Watch, Woodson said that Savage sexually assaulted her in his car in a secluded area while driving her home from a church event.

Woodson said that she reported the encounter the following day to Cotton, but police were never contacted. Woodson contacted the authorities recently but the statute of limitations has expired.

Savage eventually left the church, returned home to Memphis and accepted the position at Highpoint.

He has said that he recalls the incident as consensual.

Church elders at the Austin Stone Community Church have said that they are helping Cotton reconcile with those involved in the incident. 'As a church, it is our desire to help him seek forgiveness from those who were hurt and foster any reconciliation that might be possible in the future,' they said in a letter.

The Austin church said in a statement yesterday that Cotton has stepped down 'from his role on staff and all other leadership positions,' including all responsibilities with the Austin Stone Institute, a church-based training system to develop leaders 'in the home, church, city and world'.

The statement added that Cotton 'remains a partner (member) of the church'.

An administrator at Highpoint, Jim Pritchard, has said that the investigation there by Fort Worth, Texas, attorney Scott Fredricks includes a review of past and present actions by church leaders regarding Savage, as well as the impact of those actions. Fredricks is also advising the church 'as it makes decisions about the future of ministry at Highpoint'.

A separate investigation, which is expected to begin after the Savage review is complete, will evaluate the church's child protection practices, conducted by MinistrySafe, also based in Fort Worth.