5 Virtuous Figures Caught With Their Flies Down (Or Skirts Up)

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With Eliot Spitzer dominating today's news, we decided to look back at other so-called virtuous figures who became embroiled in sex scandals.

1. Aimee Semple McPherson (1890"“1944)

By the mid-1920s, evangelist McPherson was packing them in at her Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, preaching hope and warning against the sinful life. But in 1926, she disappeared while swimming at a local beach. She turned up a month later with a fantastic story about being kidnapped and taken to Mexico. Unfortunately, the evidence said otherwise: It appeared Aimee had been shacked up with a married man. The evangelist was charged with perjury, but she stuck to her story and was eventually acquitted. Her popularity waned after the scandal, but you gotta hand it to her for chutzpah: instead of apologizing to her confused flock, McPherson bobbed her hair, bought some short skirts, and began dancing and drinking in public.

2. Jim Bakker (1941"“ )

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Simple people with a simple dream, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker started out hosting a children's religious puppet show. By the mid-1970s, however, the fabulous Bakker duo had become the toast of televangelism. They pulled in millions of dollars in contributions to their PTL (Praise the Lord) ministry, and even built a sort of fundamentalist Disneyland called Heritage USA in South Carolina. But Jim had a couple of dirty little secrets. He had paid a former church secretary named Jessica Hahn to keep quiet about a sexual encounter they had in 1980. But when the scandal broke in 1987, questions began to be raised about Bakker's financial dealings. In 1989, he was sentenced to 45 years in prison for fleecing his flock of $158 million. In the end he only served five, and moved forward with his life, eventually opening a new ministry in a restaurant in Branson, Missouri.

3. Jimmy Swaggart (1935"“ )

swaggart.jpgSwaggart was one of Jim Bakker's fiercest critics when the Bakker scandal broke, telling an interviewer he himself had never even kissed a woman other than his wife. Maybe not. But the bombastic and fantastically successful television preacher—and cousin to rock-and-roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis—was doing something with that prostitute in a cheap New Orleans hotel room in early 1988. Swaggart's tearful, televised confession kept his $12-million-a-year, 10,000-employee religious empire together—until he got caught with his pants down again. That's right, Jimmy Swaggart was linked to (brace yourself!) another hooker in 1991. A couple of lost lawsuits, an IRS tax lien, and that was the end of the line for Jimmy Swaggart. Well, not exactly. He's still hurling rhetorical fire and brimstone on TV, radio and online, albeit on a much smaller scale.

4. Amrit Desai (1932"“ )

yogidesai2006.jpgA onetime art student, Amrit Desai came to the United States from India in 1960. He began giving yoga lessons on the side and ended up training several thousand people, who in turn became yoga instructors around the country. With his followers calling him "guru dev," or "beloved teacher," one of the things Desai taught at the yoga center he founded in Massachusetts in 1972 was that celibacy was spiritually mandatory for unmarried people. Desai even took a vow of celibacy himself in 1974, despite being married with children. No wonder it was something of a shock (perhaps greatest to his wife) when in 1994, the beloved teacher admitted to having affairs with three of his followers. The scandal forced Desai to resign his $150,000-a-year post. He eventually moved to Florida, but kept up the yoga.

5. Paul R. Shanley (1931"“ )

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In the 1970s, Shanley was known as "the hippie priest"; he was a Roman Catholic clergyman whose specialty was ministering to kids struggling with their sexual identity. By 2002, however, Shanley was a central figure in the greatest scandal ever to hit the Catholic Church in the United States. Shanley was accused of molesting more than two dozen boys over a 35-year span. Subsequent investigations into other allegations in the Boston archdiocese resulted in the Church paying $85 million in 2003 to 552 people who claimed to have been abused by priests. It also triggered similar probes, and similar results, in other areas of the country. In 2005, at the age of 74, Shanley was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.

This article was excerpted from 'Forbidden Knowledge: A wickedly smart guide to history's naughtiest bits.'

March 11, 2008 - 7:36am
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