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The New Report on Sexual Abuse in the Southern Baptist Church Is Proof of an Ongoing Crisis
A devastating report from two Texas newspapers has found at least 380 credibly accused church leaders and volunteers, and over 700 victims.
WN: Safe to say, rampant sexual abuse is a profound Church crisis – for the two largest denominations in the U.S.: Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist to be sure, and doubtless much more widespread around the world.
In August 2018 I posted coverage of the issues in the Roman Catholic Church here. Since then, there has been reported news of widespread abuse of nuns by Catholic clergy. A book due to be published later this month claims to reveal the double lives of cardinals, especially those who engage in homosexual activity: In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.
Highly disturbing is again how many clergy are credibly found out, then reassigned elsewhere – to start their abuses all over again. What is there in religion that permits such blatant turning the other way (not the other cheek!) and consequent revictimizations on a grand scale? Lord, in your mercy…
On Sunday, the Houston Chronicle and San-Antonio Express News released the first of a three-part investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention’s vast, systemic history of sexual abuse. In a ferociously reported article, a team of journalists uncovered a trail that not only includes about 380 church workers and volunteers who were credibly accused of sexual assault and the more than 700 victims they’ve left behind, but also a chilling pattern of church authorities scrambling to discredit the accusers, protect the attackers, rebuff attempts to involve local law enforcement and, in several cases, continue to employ known abusers.
The victims came from all walks of life and were of all ages. Some were assaulted on church grounds, in Sunday School classrooms or the pastor’s office. Some were groomed over long periods of time. Some went to church leadership right away, where their accusations were met with skepticism and outright disbelief. Some took much longer to come forward, fearing repercussions or not entirely understanding what had happened. Some were urged to forgive their abusers and “move on.” Some were encouraged to get abortions. Many still criticize church leadership for mishandling or concealing their claims.
The report describes how one victim, Debbie Vasquez, went to the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008 to beg leaders to agree to a series of substantive reforms that would allow the SBC to track abuse cases among its 47,000 churches and take punitive action against churches that harbored abusers. The SBC ultimately declined nearly all of those reforms.
But the accusation from many victims and even some legal experts is that the SBC has been resigned to the allegations, refusing to take the issue seriously. The report points out that for all the SBC’s insistence that they are hindered by their commitment to church autonomy, it has ended affiliations with churches for things like affirming homosexual behavior. According to the piece, “the SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors, but they do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches.”
That, to many people the Chronicle spoke with, suggests the SBC has been unwilling to address the severity of the crisis in the denomination. “I understand the fear, because it’s going to make the leadership look bad,” said Reverend Thomas Doyle, a priest and former lawyer. “Well, they are bad, and they should look bad. Because they have ignored this issue. They have demonized the victims.”
In addition to the first part of the report, the two newspapers unveiled a new database of SBC church leaders and volunteers who pleaded guilty or were convicted of sex crimes. The SBC itself had refused to make such a database as a resource for concerned church members, so the journalists made their own searchable site in which you can search by state, name or even church position. The hope is that this will make it harder for convicted abusers to gain access to positions of church leadership, and easier for hiring churches to check the records of applicants.
The next two parts of the report will release soon. You can, and should, read the first part here.
Please click on: Sexual Abuse in the Southern Baptist Church