Protestors rally in front of local church

Source:  The Oviedo Voice
Date:  April 6-April 12, 2006
by Lisa Chiaravallo, Oviedo Voice staff writer

OVIEDO - A small group of protestors marched in front of the First Baptist Church of Oviedo last Friday afternoon.

The protest was organized by Michael “Miguel” Prats, Texas State Coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests/clergy (S.N.A.P.) in an effort to highlight organizations and web sites available to clergy, and to encourage the Baptist denomination to create national policies to more effectively investigate and guard against allegations of abuse by clergy.

First Baptist of Oviedo was chosen as the protest location because of a lawsuit filed in 2005 in which a former employee of the church was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl at a Texas Baptist church while on staff there in 1969.

The accused, Rev. Tommy Gilmore, was Children’s Minister at First Baptist of Oviedo from July 1999 until March 2003.

The lawsuit alleges that while Gilmore was a Youth and Education Minister at a Texas church, he coerced sixteen-year old Christa Brown into a sexual relationship. The alleged abuse continued for six months. Gilmore was in his late twenties at the time and was married with a child

.

Although Brown reported the situation to another minister, the matter was not elevated to higher church authority, nor was the alleged abuse reported to Texas civil authorities. Gilmore was asked for his resignation and has since worked at several churches, including First Baptist of Oviedo. The Oviedo Voice has no knowledge of any complaints against Gilmore by any member of the local community.

Gilmore has denied all charges in a court filing. The suit ended in February 2006, after a letter of apology from First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch in Texas was sent to Ms. Brown.

When contacted for comment Rev. Jim Wadley, Senior Associate at First Baptist of Oviedo said, “At no time was there an issue with Tommy’s conduct while he was part of our staff, nor were there any questions of his conduct at his previous position.”

Miguel Prats believes that, had a national oversight organization existed within the framework of the Baptist religion, the incident may have been reported much earlier and Gilmore might have been prevented from working in close proximity with church youths.

According to Prats, “What happened in Christa Brown’s case continues to happen today. Because there is no national oversight, incidents of abuse are kept secret and victims who report incidents to church authorities are often re-victimized by a church’s failure to act.”

Until a national structure exists within the church Prats would like to provide a resource where victims can go to report abuse. Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests/clergy is such an organization.

Says Prats, “S.N.A.P. is a 16-year old Catholic organization headquartered in Chicago. Although it was started for Catholics, we have been contacted by an increasing number of Protestants, including Baptists who say they have been abused by members of the clergy and are looking for help.”

Continues Prats, “In the Catholic church there is an organizational hierarchy, which hears and investigates allegations of sexual abuse. However, there is no such structure in the Baptist religion, each Baptist church is autonomous.”

The Southern Baptist Convention and its local associations, such as the Florida Baptist Convention, work in cooperation with local Baptist churches; however, they hold no authority and provide no oversight on an individual church’s staff.

Although a church may be a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, its ministers and staff operate with complete autonomy and without obligation to report to any higher Earthly authority.

When abuse occurs, victims often appeal to church ministers first. If, instead of reporting and investigating allegations, ministers counsel victims to remain quiet, a cycle of secrecy is begun whereby victims are rendered powerless and perpetrators are sent on their way unpunished.

Prat believes that if the Baptist denomination instituted national policies so that victims of abuse had an objective authority to which to turn, abuse allegations could be investigated and children and vulnerable adults would be protected.

Rev. Wadley of the First Baptist Church of Oviedo says, “If the Southern Baptist Convention created a national organization to support victims of abuse, the ministerial staff of First Baptist Church of Oviedo would be supportive of that effort.” Says Wadley, “We work with the Convention in support of many cooperative efforts and would support an organization of that type.”

In the meantime, Prats encourages anyone who has been victimized as a minor by a member of the clergy to report it to civil authorities. Additionally, anonymous reports can be made at www.snapnetwork.org and www.victimpower.org.

   
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