Pastor accused of groping Ariana Grande during Aretha Franklin’s funeral apologizes

“Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologize.”

Bishop Charles H. Ellis III speaking with the singer Ariana Grande after her performance at Aretha Franklin’s funeral on Friday. The pastor’s hand lingered near Ms. Grande’s right breast as he spoke to her, prompting an outcry on social media. —Paul Sancya / AP

A senior pastor of a megachurch in Detroit who was accused of groping singer Ariana Grande during Aretha Franklin’s funeral service on Friday has apologized.

“It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast,” the pastor, Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, told The Associated Press. “Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again, I apologize.”

Grande was one of several performers at the funeral at the Greater Grace Temple who was paying tribute to the Queen of Soul.” She had just finished singing one of Franklin’s hit songs, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” but as she began to leave the stage, Grande was called back by the bishop.

Grande performs. —Paul Sancya / AP
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He thanked her and joked about how he was unaware of Grande’s work.

“When I saw Ariana Grande at the program, I thought that was a new something at Taco Bell,” he said, his arm around her waist as his fingers remained pressed into the right side of her chest for more than 30 seconds. Grande laughed. (Her fourth album, “Sweetener,” has topped the Billboard charts three weeks in a row.)

“Girl, let me give you all your respect,” he said, pulling her in for a hug.

“Did you all enjoy this icon?” he asked the crowd, referring to Grande’s performance. “She’s an icon herself.”

For many, there was no question what had just happened.

“I don’t care what you think about Ariana Grande, her music or her dress. This is wrong. That bishop’s hand should not be on her breast,” author Mona Eltahawy wrote on Twitter, her post accompanied by a video of the episode that has been viewed more than 2 million times.

Viewers, dismayed by both the pastor’s joke and his embrace, responded en masse on Twitter with the hashtag #RespectAriana, which started trending.

Neither the pastor nor Grande’s representatives immediately responded to a request for comment on Saturday, but Ellis’ official Twitter account posted an interview he conducted with the AP at the cemetery where Franklin was interred.

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Ellis said that the “last thing” he wanted was to distract from the service, and added that he hugged all the performers.

“I hug all the female artists and the male artists,” Ellis told the AP. “Everybody that was up, I shook their hands and hugged them. That’s what we are all about in the church. We are all about love.”

On Twitter, those who suggested Grande should have chosen a more appropriate dress were quickly shut down.

Fans also unearthed a tweet that Grande had posted in December 2016. “Our bodies, our clothing, our music, our personalities,” the tweet said. “It is not. an open. invitation.”

In an interview posted by ITV News, the pastor also apologized to Grande and her fans for suggesting her name sounded like a Taco Bell menu item.

“Listen, maybe it’s just a joke that went bad,” he said. “But when you’re doing a program for nine hours, you know, you try to keep it lively, you try to make some funny references and what have you.”

“If it was taken to be an offensive statement, I apologize,” he said.

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