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Hun­dreds of church lead­ers have been ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct over the past 20 years.

SAN AN­TO­NIO» Hun­dreds of South­ern Baptist church lead­ers and work­ers have been ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct over the past 20 years, in­clud­ing dozens who re­turned to church du­ties, ac­cord­ing to a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion by two news­pa­pers.

The San An­to­nio Ex­press-News and Hous­ton Chron­i­cle re­ported Sun­day that their six-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion found about 380 South­ern Baptist church lead­ers and work­ers who were ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct since 1998, leav­ing more than 700 vic­tims. Some were as young as 3 years old while oth­ers were adults when they were abused, the news­pa­pers re­ported.

About 220 of­fend­ers — among them pas­tors, min­is­ters, Sun­day school teach­ers, dea­cons and church vol­un­teers — have been con­victed or have taken plea deals, with dozens of cases still pend­ing. Nearly 100 are still in prison, ac­cord­ing to state and fed­eral records. Dozens of oth­ers made plea deals and served no time. More than 100 are reg­is­tered sex of­fend­ers, and some have re­turned to the pul­pit. At least 35 church pas­tors, em­ploy­ees and vol­un­teers who ex­hib­ited preda­tory be­hav­ior were still able to find jobs at churches.

Sev­eral past pres­i­dents and prom­i­nent South­ern Baptist Con­ven­tion lead­ers have been ac­cused by vic­tims of con­ceal­ing or mis­han­dling abuse com­plaints within their churches or sem­i­nar­ies, the news­pa­pers re­ported.

In 2008, a vic­tim im­plored SBC lead­ers to track sex­ual preda­tors, act against con­gre­ga­tions that har­bored or con­cealed abusers and es­tab­lish sex­ual abuse pre­ven­tion poli­cies such as those adopted by other faiths, in­clud­ing the Ro­man Catholic Church. But the SBC Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee re­jected the pro­pos­als.

The com­mit­tee’s in­terim pres­i­dent, Au­gust Boto, who drafted that re­jec­tion doc­u­ment, ex­pressed “sor­row” on Sun­day about the news­pa­pers’ find­ings.

“It would be sor­row if it were 200 or 600 cases. Sor­row. What we’re talk­ing about is crim­i­nal. The fact that crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity oc­curs in a church con­text is al­ways the ba­sis of grief. But it’s go­ing to hap­pen. And that state­ment (he drafted in 2008) does not mean that we must be re­signed to it,” he told the news­pa­pers.

The Rev. J.D. Greear, who was elected as the SBC’s pres­i­dent last June, said the abuses de­scribed in the news re­port “are pure evil.”

“I am bro­ken over what was re­vealed to­day,” Greear wrote in a se­ries of posts on Twit­ter. “The voices in this ar­ti­cle should be heard as a warn­ing sent from God, call­ing the church to re­pent.”

In re­cent years, sev­eral abuse sur­vivors and their sup­port­ers have cam­paigned on the is­sue of sex­ual abuse within the SBC com­mu­nity. Ac­tivists re­main skep­ti­cal as to whether the study com­mit­tee cre­ated last July will rec­om­mend suf­fi­ciently tough anti-abuse mea­sures.

The com­mit­tee was formed fol­low­ing a se­ries of rev­e­la­tions about sex­ual mis­con­duct cases in­volv­ing SBC churches and sem­i­nar­ies, in­clud­ing al­le­ga­tions that led to the ouster of pow­er­ful leader Paige Pat­ter­son as pres­i­dent of a sem­i­nary in Texas.

“We lead­ers in the SBC should have lis­tened to the warn­ings of those who tried to call at­ten­tion to this,” Greear tweeted. “I am com­mit­ted to do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to en­sure we never make these mis­takes again.”

He said the SBC must do bet­ter in pre­vent­ing abuse, com­mit to full co­op­er­a­tion with le­gal au­thor­i­ties when it does oc­cur, and of­fer bet­ter care to abuse vic­tims. He also the SBC should never again try to skirt re­spon­si­bil­ity for abuse by as­sert­ing that its af­fil­i­ated churches are au­ton­o­mous. In late July, the SBC said it would form a high-level study group to de­velop strate­gies for com­bat­ting sex­ual abusers and min­is­ter­ing to their vic­tims.

“We can­not just prom­ise to ‘do bet­ter’ and ex­pect that to be enough,” Greear wrote. “But to­day, change be­gins with feel­ing the full weight of the prob­lem.”

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