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Top 10 Most Shocking Religious Scandals

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by George Pacheco.

When it comes to scandals that rocked religion, they’ve involved sexual abuse, fraud, abuse of power and more. Religious figures who fell from grace due to controversy include Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and even Mother Teresa. WatchMojo counts down ten of the worst religious scandals to shake up Christianity, Judaism and more.

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Script written by George Pacheco.

Top 10 Shocking Religious Scandals

These were the moments that rocked some religions to their very core. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Religious Scandals.

For this list, we’ll be ranking high profile and widespread scandals that had some serious repercussions within their respective religious institutions.

#10: Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker Rape & Fraud Scandals

Televangelism has proven popular and lucrative since the 1950s, with a number of high profile preachers, like Rex Humbard and W.V. Grant, achieving massive financial success. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were even more popular, running their Praise the Lord, or PTL Club, ministry/TV show from the ‘70s to the 1980s. Scandal arose when Jim was alleged to have raped his church secretary, Jessica Hahn. The PTL ran into further problems when the Bakkers were accused of defrauding their flock of donations for Heritage USA, a Christian theme park: allegedly, the Bakkers pocketed the excess funds, and promised hotel stays that could not be fulfilled. Jim was sentenced to 45 years in prison, serving only five, while Tammy Faye divorced him during his incarceration.

#9: Mother Teresa’s Motivations & Charity Scandal

Albanian-Indian nun and missionary Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, and did a large part of her work in India, where her organization ran hospices and assistance programs for the poor and sick. In 2015, however, Mohan Bhagwat, the head of a Hindu nationalist group, criticized Teresa’s legacy, citing suspected ulterior motives to convert those she helped to Christianity. Journalist Christopher Hitchens had expressed similar denunciations, saying that Teresa’s perceived altruism was in fact a ruse: he alleges that she wished to advocate suffering and not to save people from the hardships of poverty. Others held Mother Teresa accountable for misusing funds and delivering poor medical assistance – accusations that failed to impact her declaration of sainthood by the Vatican in 2016.

#8: Gilbert Deya Child Abduction & Trafficking Scandal

This Kenyan evangelist ran into controversy soon after establishing his Gilbert Deya Ministries in the United Kingdom in the late 1990s. Deya, who refers to himself as “The Archbishop of Peckham,” has made many claims over the course of his career: for example, he sold olive oil by suggesting it had the infused holy power to combat cancer and HIV. The most serious allegations against Deya and his wife Mary Deya, however, were those involving child trafficking and abduction, tied to his ministry’s promise to assist infertile couples. Mary Deya was arrested in 2004, and Bishop Deya was apprehended two years later, after it was revealed that they had stolen children from a Nairobi maternity hospital, and presented them as “miracle babies.”

#7: Metzitzah B’Peh Herpes Scandal

The practice of male circumcision is an ancient covenant of the Jewish faith, dating back to the religion’s foundation. Metzitzah B’Peh is a traditional form of circumcision that became newsworthy in the early 2000s, when a number of Israeli and New York City infants were diagnosed with herpes. Critics claimed the virus was transmitted by the mohel during this process. This is due largely to the fact that Metzitzah B’Peh involves the mohel sucking the blood from the circumcision before bandaging the area. New York’s Department of Health later responded by passing a regulation requiring that all parents recognize the health risks associated with Metzitzah B’Peh, and sign a consent form before proceeding with the ritual.

#6: Creflo Dollar Gulfstream Jet & Domestic Violence Scandals

In 2014, the Atlanta-based evangelist Creflo Dollar came under fire when he asked for donations to purchase a sixty million dollar Gulfstream jet, which he stated he would use to spread the ministry of his non-denominational World Changers Church International. Prior to that, in 2012, a more serious accusation of domestic violence was made against the minister by his teenage daughter. Dollar was arrested for battery after his daughter claimed she was choked and punched by her father at their home. The charge was later dropped after Dollar – who maintained that he was innocent – completed a required anger management course.

#5: Mount Cashel Orphanage Child Sex Abuse Scandal

The Mount Cashel Orphanage was a home for wards of the state located in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, which took in young children for decades, starting in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the orphanage is largely remembered for the scandal that eventually forced it to close its doors in 1990. It was revealed that over 300 residents had been abused by staff members of the Christian Brothers of Ireland in Canada during their time at Mount Cashel. This sex abuse scandal was the largest in Canadian history, and one of the largest worldwide, and it was made all the more troubling given the fact that many religious and local authorities knew of the abuse, and had paid off several victims.

#4: Bishop Eddie Long Sex Scandal

In 2010, the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in DeKalb County, Georgia became a center for scandal. Multiple male parishioners stepped forward with lawsuits, claiming that New Birth’s Bishop Eddie Long, a crusader against gay marriage during his ministries, had pressured them into sexual relations when they were in their teens. The lawsuits detailed that Long had plied the young boys with presents and trips in exchange for sex. Long denied the claims via his attorney and in prepared statements. He eventually resolved out-of-court with the plaintiffs, though details remained confidential.

#3: Jimmy Swaggart Sex Scandal

Jimmy Lee Swaggart was a well-known televangelist in the 1980s, and a minister of the Pentecostal Christian denomination known as The Assemblies of God. Swaggart’s success and notoriety came under fire in the public eye, however, when the preacher became involved in a sex scandal with a prostitute. This ultimately led the Assembly to strip him of his ability to practice religious ordinances. Swaggart’s struggle during the scandal reached its peak when, in 1988, he addressed his wife and congregation in a choked up confession. It was watched on television by millions, and served as one of the most memorable moments of the ‘80s televangelist boom.

#2: Vatican Leaks Scandal

The Vatican Leaks Scandal, or “VatiLeaks,” received significant public attention when a book by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, entitled “His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI,” was released. The book contained letters between Pope Benedict XVI and his personal secretary that exposed stories of financial corruption, including bribery. Further fuel was added to the fire when an internal Vatican investigation revealed that Church outsiders had blackmailed homosexual clergymen. Ultimately, Pope Benedict resigned his position in February of 2013 – the first time in almost 600 hundred years that a pope had done so.

Before we reveal our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Ted Haggard Homosexuality Scandal
- Robert Tilton’s “Prosperity Gospel” Scandal
- The Banco Ambrosiano Scandal

#1: Boston Sexual Abuse Scandal

The Academy Award winning 2015 film “Spotlight” takes inspiration from this series of news reports, first published in 2002 by journalists at the Boston Globe. The articles brought to light accusations by a number of plaintiffs of sexual abuse against Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, some of whom said their tales of abuse went all the way back to their childhood. This series of articles ushered in even more claims as more alleged victims came forward. Perhaps most notable was the criticism that landed at the feet of the Church itself: the institution was accused for covering up these crimes, having reappointed the incriminated pastors to other parishes in order to protect its reputation.

Do you agree with our list? Which religious scandal shocked you the most? For more controversial top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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