The leader of a controversial South Korean church who promoted chastity to his 130,000 followers has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of multiple counts of sexual assault and harassment.
Lee Jae-rock, the leader of the Manmin Central Church, who court documents show “deified himself” in sermons, was indicted for 42 counts of sexual harassment and sexual assault against eight victims.
Lee, 75, had “maliciously taken advantage of the victims who had absolute faith in his religious authority, and sexually harassed or assaulted the victims who were in their 20s repeatedly for an extended period and even sexually assaulting multiple victims at the same time,” according to a press release from the Seoul Central District Court.
Lee’s victims had been members of his church since birth or childhood, the document said.
While they were of the age of consent at the time of their sexual relations with Lee, the court found that his followers were unable to resist his advances “due to their absolute faith in the infallibility of the accused.”
“The victims were in the psychological status where they absolutely could not resist or at least the resistance was substantially difficult,” the release said.
“Judging from the circumstances, though the accused did not call himself the ‘holy spirit’ or ‘god’ in an official place, in the smaller gathering or personal education sessions, he had been teaching the followers directly, and indirectly, that he is the holy spirit, or God.”
Five of the victims had left the church but, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, were encouraged by a fellow victim to report him.
The court found that it was “sufficiently reasoned” that Lee’s influence over the victims as their pastor, having “consistently listened to his sermons and attended the church diligently,” would have believed that he “served God’s will.”
Lee denied all charges, and argued that the victims may have been motivated “by money” to provide false testimony. He has worked as a missionary both in South Korea and internationally.
In addition to the prison sentence, Lee was ordered to undergo 80 hours of sexual violence therapy program, and is banned from working with children for 10 years.