On Monday, here at the St. Louis County courthouse, arguments in a previously-undisclosed sexual exploitation lawsuit will be heard. The case is against a minister, ex- psychologist, ex-St. Louis Cardinals’ consultant and ex-KMOX radio talk show host, Rev. William L. Little.
Little (a.k.a. Billy Lee Little) is being sued (for at least the second time) for inappropriate sexual misconduct against a woman he was counseling. A similar case against him in the 1990s led to his psychologist’s license being suspended and to a financial settlement.
For 17 years, Little had a counseling show on KMOX and reportedly “became the first sports psychologist employed by a major league baseball team when he worked for the St. Louis Cardinals (1978-1982).” For 50 years, he headed Christ Memorial Baptist Church in Cool Valley (which dissolved in 2010).
According to the complaint, Little became the marriage counselor for Darrell and Rhonda Pitt in 1983. After several sessions, he told the couple that Rhonda required special solo counseling sessions, which she attended for a few years. During these sessions, Little used his position of authority to exploit and coerce Rhonda into sexual contact. Later, the suit says, Little demanded silence from Rhonda. In 2010, she got counseling from another professional who urged her to report Little’s manipulation and misdeeds. She told her husband that same year.
When Darrel confronted Little about his misdeeds, Little mocked him and derided his wife. Later, Little took to the pulpit at Christ Memorial and derided Darrell publicly. The couple is suing Little for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, and defamation. They are also suing Christ Memorial for intentional failure to supervise Little.
At a hearing in Clayton on Monday, church officials and Little will urge a judge to toss out the case. At the same hearing, the Pitts’ will urge a judge to force church officials to turn over records about Little’s work there.
We are asking the judge will allow the case to proceed. That’s how the full truth about alleged wrongdoing surface. That’s how future wrongdoing is prevented.
We are also urging Baptist church officials to stop using legal technicalities and stop trying to get this case dismissed. Let them fight, if they must, on the merits, but not by exploiting technicalities.
And we are also urging anyone who may have seen, suspected or suffered wrongdoing by Little - in any of his jobs or roles - to contact the police or their group.
Finally, let’s be clear on what this is and what this isn’t. This is exploitation. It’s not “a relationship.” It’s manipulation. It’s not “consent.”
An educated, allegedly holy religious authority figure who holds the exalted title of “reverend” cannot ever have truly consensual or healthy sexual contact with a parishioner. It is always morally wrong and emotionally harmful.
That harm is compounded when the minister also holds the title of psychologist.
Clergy always hold an exalted position, and when they have any sexual involvement with parishioners, it is always hurtful.
There is a huge and inherent power imbalance between clergy and church members. It is like a doctor-patient or therapist-client relationship, where any sexual contact is expressly forbidden. And for good reason: because it almost always results in devastation, with individuals and with congregations.
It's always the duty of powerful official – doctor, therapist or priest - to maintain boundaries and refrain from any sexual contact with the radically less powerful person – patient, client or parishioner.
It's the duty of church officials to help congregants understand this. And it’s the duty of church officials and members to reach out to and help those hurt by this egregious and hurtful misconduct and to help expose those predators who engage in it. We call on former members of Little’s church and former colleagues of Little’s to aggressively seek out and offer comfort to anyone who may have seen, suspected or suffered his hurtful misconduct.