South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers face sex abuse al­le­ga­tions

The Buffalo News - - NATIONAL NEWS - By Kris­tine Phillips and Amy B Wang

HOUS­TON – “20 years, 700 vic­tims” So reads part of the head­line of a sweep­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has found years of sex­ual abuse per­pe­trated by hun­dreds of South­ern Bap­tist church lead­ers against an even larger num­ber of vic­tims.

The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle and the San An­to­nio Ex­press-News re­ported that nearly 400 South­ern Bap­tist church lead­ers and vol­un­teers have faced sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions in the past two decades.

As many as 700 vic­tims – some as young as 3 – were sex­u­ally abused, some raped and mo­lested re­peat­edly, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

But in­stead of en­sur­ing that sex­ual preda­tors were kept at bay, the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion re­sisted pol­icy changes, the news­pa­pers found. Vic­tims ac­cused church lead­ers of mis­han­dling their com­plaints, even hid­ing them from the pub­lic.

While the ma­jor­ity of abusers have been con­victed of sex crimes and are reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that at least 36 pas­tors, em­ploy­ees and vol­un­teers who showed preda­tory be­hav­ior still worked at churches.

The rev­e­la­tions, pub­lished Sun­day, have not only led to a cho­rus of con­dem­na­tion and calls for re­struc­tur­ing but have also pushed church lead­ers to grap­ple with the trou­bling his­tory – and fu­ture – of the largest Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tion in the coun­try.

“We must ad­mit that our fail­ures, as churches, put these sur­vivors in a po­si­tion where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fight­ing for them,” J.D. Greear, who was elected pres­i­dent of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion last sum­mer, said on Twit­ter. “Their courage is ex­em­plary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was nec­es­sary.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion comes amid a string of re­cent al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread sex­ual abuse by Catholic priests and cover-ups by the church hi­er­ar­chy. Just a few days ear­lier, Pope Fran­cis ac­knowl­edged that mem­bers of the Catholic clergy had abused nuns for years.

The South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, a fel­low­ship of more than 47,000 Bap­tist churches and 15 mil­lion mem­bers across the United States and its ter­ri­to­ries, is the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest faith group af­ter the Catholic Church.

Greear, who was not avail­able for com­ment Sun­day af­ter­noon, ad­dressed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in force­ful terms, say­ing in a lengthy Twit­ter thread that he was “bro­ken” over what it had re­vealed and that it was a “heinous er­ror” to ap­ply Bap­tist doc­trine in a man­ner that en­abled abuse.

“The abuses de­scribed in this (Hous­ton Chron­i­cle) ar­ti­cle are pure evil,” Greear wrote. “I join with count­less oth­ers who are cur­rently ‘weep­ing with those who weep.’ ”

Greear called for “per­va­sive change” within the de­nom­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing tak­ing steps to pre­vent abuse, fully co­op­er­at­ing with le­gal au­thor­i­ties when people re­ported abu­sive be­hav­ior and help­ing sur­vivors re­cover.

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