Megachurch Pastor Dino Rizzo Returns to Ministry After Affair

Last September, I received some emails from various sources saying Dino Rizzo, pastor of Healing Place Church, had stepped down from his position as senior pastor because he was “spiritually depleted.” Digging into the story further, I found rumors of an affair between Dino and a young staff member in his church, Kaycee Morgan Smith. That explained the odd and abrupt manner which he left the church he founded. Further into my research, I found that Dino Rizzo’s mentor as a young pastor was none other than Jimmy Swaggart. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, but Rizzo upgraded from prostitute to mistress.

Now "fallen" pastor Dino Rizzo graces a July 2012 issue of Charisma magazine
Now “fallen” pastor Dino Rizzo graces a July 2012 issue of Charisma magazine

According to a Charisma News article ran in July, 2012:

As a 23-year-old Dino worked under Baton Rouge icon Jimmy Swaggart as a youth pastor and ran the televangelist’s $300,000-a-month, 30-vehicle bus ministry. He’d been saved in a Word-Faith church in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and at Swaggart’s Bible college, Dino began to merge the bold faith he saw modeled around him with the burning passion he’d always had to reach those less fortunate.

You may remember Jimmy Swaggart from his sex scandal with a prostitute:

On October 11, 1991, Swaggart for a second time was found in the company of a prostitute, Rosemary Garcia, when he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol in Indio, California, for driving on the wrong side of the road. According to Garcia, Swaggart stopped to proposition her on the side of the road. When the patrolman asked Garcia why she was with Swaggart, she replied, “He asked me for sex. I mean, that’s why he stopped me. That’s what I do. I’m a prostitute.” This time, rather than confessing to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center that “The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business.” Swaggart’s son Donnie then announced to the stunned audience that his father would be temporarily stepping down as head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries for “a time of healing and counseling.”

Like Jimmy Swaggart, Dino Rizzo temporarily stepped down from ministry, a move Church of the Highlands lead pastor, Chris Hodges, seems very proud of. Chris Hodges thinks people are dumb enough to believe that liars can be considered honorable men. In this recorded sermon, Chris Hodges introduces Dino Rizzo in his first time coming back to preaching: http://www.churchofthehighlands.com/media/message/how-to-come-back-to-the-father

Chris Hodges goes on to talk about how his church hired Dino to be on staff for one year to reintroduce him into ministry. Dino will be a “father” figure in ARC (Association of Related Churches) while they are “planting 100 new churches a year” according to Hodges.

Since writing my initial articles here, here and here on Dino Rizzo’s affair, many church members (current and former) have come forward to express how betrayed they feel by Rizzo and the church board. Rizzo’s actions, they felt, weren’t what ruined his reputation in their eyes: it was his dishonesty. Because he misrepresented his situation to the megachurch, several thousand people felt duped. Many have since sent me emails explaining why they left the church and how heartbreaking it was for them. I know the feeling–I worked for one of Dino Rizzo’s best friends and came to find out he lacked the integrity I once thought he had. What seems to happen in cases like Dino Rizzo and Jimmy Swaggart is the power and money (read: greed) are too delicious for them to give up, so they play the Humble Game for a year and then come back full force. Ask any Hollywood PR person what to do in a scandal and they’ll give you the same advice: “Go away for awhile and then return. The public has a short memory.”

Yet devoted Christians and church members don’t have a short memory because this week, once news started spreading about Dino’s return, I received email after email notifying me of his return. These are good-hearted men and women who helped build Healing Place Church and their ministries by hand and they feel betrayed. Rightly so. This must be why Jesus said the meek will inherit the Earth. The most important lesson I learned when leaving ministry was that the powerful and influential ministers of the world are usually the most disingenuous of us all.

So, without further ado, I give you Dino Rizzo, back in action at the Church of the Highlands in an August 7th sermon titled “How to Come Back to the Father.” (Insert eye roll.) How cliche of him.

On a personal note, I do feel sorry for Dino. As I watched him preach this sermon, I could tell he was scared: he was scared that people like me would be watching him, blogging about it. He was scared that no one would believe him anymore, no one would clap for him, no one would pay his gas bill or luxuries. He’s right to be scared. When I wrote my original stories about him, over 10,000 people shared them. Healing Place Church was at the time boasting an 8,000 member congregation. Church of the Highlands states Healing Place Church membership is now at 7,000. I think the word is out that he is a fraud.

Should Dino Rizzo be allowed to return to ministry? Do you think Chris Hodges explanation about the affair was sufficient enough? Do you think Dino can (or did) change? Is it just temporary? Let me know what you think in the comments.

On a related note, any tips or emails I receive on this story will remain 100% confidential and anonymous. You can send stories, tips or any other info to mycultlife AT gmail DOT com.

Related stories here:

Healing Place Pastor Founder Resigns; Affair Cover Up Suspected

Rizzo Resigns As Healing Place Pastor; Rumors Of Affair Surface

Dino Rizzo From Healing Place Church Puts His House Up For Sale

Here’s What People Are Saying About Dino Rizzo’s Affair Cover-Up

An Email from a Dino Rizzo Fan

Letters to Nowhere: Tim Delina, Dino Rizzo, Winkie Pratney

More on this subject: 

Dino Rizzo to Join the ARC Staff  (Press Release)- August 2013

Dino Rizzo’s First Sermon: “How to Come Back to the Father” – August 7, 2013

 

If you’re interested in watching the train wreck further, Dino will be speaking at Celebration Church on Sunday, August 11. You deserve to be informed.

 

Here’s What People Are Saying About Dino Rizzo’s Affair Cover-Up

Dino Rizzo Kaycee Morgan Smith
Dino Rizzo with the woman he had an affair with, Kaycee Morgan Smith. The affair took place in the summer of 2012. (Image left courtesy of The Leadership Blog and image right courtesy of Healing Place Church)

In light of Dino Rizzo’s recent return to ministry this week after having an affair with Healing Place Church staff member Kaycee Morgan Smith and lying to his church about it in his resignation last year, here’s what people are saying about the scandal and cover-up:

Chris Hodges words were spin on the truth. It wasn’t a brief inappropriate friendship, she was a kept woman for quite some time. But at least Church of the highlands and ARC received spins on the truth, HPC received outright lies and cover up. I just wish Hodges and Rizzo had gotten up there and said “we made so many mistakes over this last year trying to handle this right but failing, I’m sorry, please forgive me.” –From commentor Icabod

Charisma News did a good job of covering up what really happened. Readers were outraged again from the lack of integrity of the news source and the pastors involved, just like they were last September when Christian news sources were covering up the affair.
NavyDad77 says: 

The narrative should be about the cover up and leaving the women victim out in the cold AND the church that remains in Louisiana is in trouble. All the while this guy gets off with NO questions asked. He was the former youth minister for Jimmy Swaggart so he should know how to repent. The scandal is the cover up of what happened and the subsequent mistreatment of the intern. Not a single bit of contrition or mention of that from any of them. There should be outrage and a much longer cooling off period before they let him in charge of anything.

Richard says:

An “inappropriate friendship”? What is an “inappropriate friendship”? Since when is a pastor disciplined for an “inappropriate friendship”? Is an “inappropriate friendship” when you say “hi” too many times? What is an “inappropriate friendship”? I think I know what it is…..a lie….cover up language.

A former member of Church of the Highlands, where Dino Rizzo is now on staff and gave his first sermon since the affair, hits the nail on the head with this comment:

As a former member of COTH of over 12 years, I am so disappointed w/ Chris and Dino for how they have handled this situation. No honesty whatsoever!! I feel so sorry for the people of HPC who were lied to, betrayed and told they weren’t getting any more explanation for his (Dino’s) resignation. Their (Chris, Dino and Co.) cover up only proves that they care more about Dino’s reputation and the reputation of ARC than they do about the people they serve.

More on this story here: 

Healing Place Pastor Founder Resigns; Affair Cover Up Suspected

Rizzo Resigns As Healing Place Pastor; Rumors Of Affair Surface

Dino Rizzo From Healing Place Church Puts His House Up For Sale

Megachurch Pastor Dino Rizzo Returns to Ministry After Affair

If you would like to contribute to this story, of have a news tip, email mycultlife AT gmail DOT com. All names will be kept confidential.