Victims group calls for Baptist convention's list of offenders
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Dallas Morning News/Denton Record-Chronicle
By Donna Fielder / Staff Writer
A support group for victims of sexual abuse by clergy members is lobbying the General Baptist Convention of Texas to make public a list the convention keeps of Baptist ministers involved in sexual misconduct.
Members of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests or Clergy (SNAP) handed out pamphlets at the November Baptist General Convention of Texas outlining the problem with the “secret list” and the reasons they believe the ministers’ names should be made public.
But Texas Baptist officials are adamant that the list be kept confidential.
Emily Row, coordinator of leader communication with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said there are several reasons.
“This is not a list of people, but a file that includes incidents of clergy misconduct reported by the churches that cooperate within the convention,” Row said. “Baptists don’t have denominational structure like most denominations. Churches choose to participate or not, and we have no overarching hierarchical system.”
The file contains incidents of clergy misconduct that include extramarital affairs as well as sexual abuse of children, she said. Churches voluntarily provide this information.
If there has been a confession, a conviction or substantial evidence of misconduct has been documented, that information is included in the file, Row said.
Officials of any church associated with the convention may request in writing whether a particular pastor is included in the file, she said. They receive a yes-or-no answer, Row said. The convention provides no particulars.
“We don’t provide details to protect victims,” she said. “They [church officials] can then pursue a conversation with that minister. We highly encourage every church hiring a minister to send a request, but we can’t require it.”
Row said that anyone convicted of a sexual crime already is on a public list of sexual offenders. Churches should conduct extensive background checks, including looking on sexual offender lists, she said.
“Most of the people lobbying for it to be published don’t understand our denomination structure,” she said.
The system recommended by the convention doesn’t always work the way officials hope it will. Christa Brown, an Austin lawyer who has become an activist in the SNAP victims support group, said a preacher who molested her as a child, afterward worked in several churches in Texas and Florida, even though his name was on the Baptist sexual misconduct list.
Brown said she was an adolescent member of a Baptist church in Farmers Branch when an adult, married minister sexually abused her. Another minister of the church later corroborated her story, and the abuser left the church, she said.
His name apparently was placed on the known offender list, Brown said, but still he worked at several churches in Texas and was working in Florida when a newspaper article there reported Brown’s lawsuit and he left that church.
Brown said she repressed the abuse until she was an adult and had an adolescent daughter of her own. Thinking about such a thing happening to her daughter, she began to deal with the trauma, she said, and reported her abuse to several Baptist leaders. She could not get their attention. After a year of frustration with Baptist leadership, she filed a damage suit.
She found, in documents provided by the Baptist convention as part of the lawsuit, evidence that the minister’s name had been placed on the known offenders list while he continued to be a minister, Brown said.
Brown’s damage suit was settled recently. The minister confessed and the Farmers Branch church issued a written apology as part of the settlement.
“The trauma is such that people can’t bring themselves to speak of this until years later, and by then, the statute of limitations has run out,” Brown said in a telephone interview.
“When it involves the possibility of a minister who molests a kid, if there was ever a time for openness and transparency, this is it.”
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.