RICHMOND, AUG. 7 -- Convicted rapist Clyde L. Johnson Sr. resigned today from the Petersburg, Va., City Council and his pastorship of two Baptist churches, saying he wanted to start "healing the wounds" that his criminal case had caused in the city's political and religious communities.

"I cannot sit idly by and watch families and friends openly quarrel over my tenure as a councilperson and as church pastor," the imprisoned Johnson said in a statement issued here by his attorney, noted Richmond lawyer Sa'ad El-Amin.

"While I have the power to remain in office," Johnson added, "I do not feel at this juncture that I should do so if it is going to result in continued division and hostilities."

Virginia law would have allowed Johnson, who has been on the council since 1973, to remain in office until his appeals have been exhausted.

Johnson's October indictment and June 12 conviction on sex abuse charges involving five girls in one of his churches had deeply pained the community of Petersburg, a working-class city about 25 miles south of Richmond.

While some constituents and congregants clamored for his removal from the three highly visible posts, others defended the pastor-politician as a victim of racism who was innocent of the criminal charges.

Johnson, 52, is in the Richmond City Jail awaiting sentencing Thursday for his conviction on 15 counts of sexual misconduct -- including rape, attempted rape and aggravated sexual battery -- against the girls over a 12-year period.

The Alexandria jury that heard the case after it was moved from Petersburg recommended that Johnson be sentenced to 161 years in prison.

Today, municipal and religious leaders in Petersburg said they were relieved by Johnson's resignations.

"I think it'll be real good for Petersburg," said Vice Mayor Charles H. Cuthbert.

"There's been so much discussion. Maybe now we can get off the discussion and get on to something more productive for this city," he said.

Paul Bland, a Petersburg lawyer and chairman of the board of deacons at Loving Union Baptist Church in Prince George County, where Johnson was pastor for 13 years, also hailed Johnson's decision, calling the pastor's resignation note "a good letter."

"While he was with us, he did a good job at our church -- I don't want to take that from him," Bland said. "But, after all the events of the past months . . . . "

Helen B. Giles, the clerk of Johnson's First Baptist Church, one of the largest and most distinguished congregations in Petersburg, declined comment on Johnson's resignation, saying, "We haven't even had time to think about what the next step is." Johnson had been pastor at First Baptist for 19 years.

El-Amin, who held a news conference at the state Capitol to release Johnson's statement and three letters of resignation, said his client had considered stepping down from his offices earlier, but did not because he "looked on resignation as an admission . . . of the fact that he was guilty of the charges."

Yet, El-Amin conceded, once convicted, Johnson "could not effectively represent his constituents in the 6th Ward, he could not stand on the rostrum at either church."

"The shock of the convictions . . . all weigh very heavily about him," El-Amin said of Johnson.