Church leader apologizes but won't step down

CNN News, December 4, 1997

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (CNN) -- The head of the National Baptist Convention USA apologized Wednesday but refused to step down amid escalating accusations of financial and personal wrongdoing.

"I am a preacher who made some very serious mistakes in judgment," the Rev. Henry Lyons said at a news conference at his Bethel Metropolitan Church. "If I have violated any federal or state laws, it was not my intent. It was also not my intent to do any act or any financial harm to anyone."

President of the nation's largest black religious group, Lyons has been dogged by allegations that church money was spent on expensive jewelry, a Mercedes-Benz and a $700,000 home bought with a woman who is not his wife.

Lyons also is accused of diverting money intended for the restoration of Southern churches damaged by arson to other church expenses and accepting $350,000 in secret payments from Nigeria's military ruler.

"I am no monster. I am no devil," said Lyons, who was accompanied by his wife, one of his three children and three attorneys. "I am a man, and despite whatever you may write, I am still a child of God."

While denying he misused any convention or church money, he said he had voluntarily amended his federal income tax returns to reflect "a substantial increase in income or financial gifts" since 1995.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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