A pastor who says he was defamed in a scandal involving allegations of "phantom churches" in the Rio Grande Valley has sued the Baptist General Convention of Texas for libel and slander.
The lawsuit by Pastor Otto Arango seeks damages for lost earnings and "past and future mental anguish." Arango's lawsuit also named the Baptist Standard, a Dallas-based newspaper that covers Texas Baptist life.
The Baptist group's executive director, Randel Everett, said the suit was "totally without merit," in Thursday's online edition of The Dallas Morning News.
Arango said he was defamed during an independent investigation requested by the state's largest Baptist group. The investigation sought to confirm whether three pastors actually started 258 new Rio Grande Valley churches, which received about $1.3 million from the denomination. Of those, the investigation concluded that only five to 10 churches exist.
The report cited lax oversight on the part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. No charges were filed.
Arango's attorney said the Baptist organization spread rumors about the pastor that have made it hard for him to continue working with churches in Texas and across Latin America.
"Our position is those are false, malicious allegations that have hurt him in his trade, especially being a man of the cloth," attorney Carlos Hernandez said.
Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, said he would not comment on the suit, based on advice from the newspaper's attorney.