Pastor Urges Predator Database


by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor

The Oklahoman, June 13, 2007


SAN ANTONIO — Southern Baptist women and children must be protected from predatory ministers, an Oklahoma pastor said Tuesday at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting.

The Rev. Wade Burleson of Enid asked the convention's executive committee to study the development of a database identifying sexual predators within the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

That way, such predators cannot be easily passed from church to church — and victim to victim, he said.

"Our convention ought to be able to say, ‘This is what we know,'” Burleson said at the meeting in San Antonio.

A victims' advocacy group lauded Burleson's request and its subsequent reception by the convention.

"If it happens, it's a long overdue good first step. It's not by any means a comprehensive solution, but it's progress,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Any step that protects kids is positive.”

Southern Baptists gathered at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio. Organizers said roughly 8,300 Baptist messengers had registered for the event by Tuesday afternoon, the first day of the two-day meeting.

In an interview with The Oklahoman Tuesday, Burleson said he was alerted to the sexual abuse issue after Christa Brown, outreach coordinator for the group, sought his help several months ago in gaining the attention of Southern Baptist leadership.

Burleson said he asked Brown for more information about the issue and was flooded by e-mails and other correspondence from women who said they have been sexually abused by Southern Baptist clergy.

Year-long study requested

His request Tuesday called for a feasibility study looking into establishment of a database "of Southern Baptist clergy and staff who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse, and that such a database be accessible to Southern Baptist churches in order to assist in preventing any future sexual abuse or harassment.” Burleson asked that the committee report back on the study at next year's meeting in Indianapolis.

Brown, who lives in Austin, led a group of members who distributed leaflets about their organization outside the convention center Monday and Tuesday. Brown said the group held a prayer vigil outside the convention center Monday afternoon.

She said she attended a Southern Baptist church as a child and was sexually abused by a minister there. Although another pastor eventually learned of the abuse, the abuser was allowed to go on to another ministry, Brown said.

She said she was especially pleased that Burleson's request included not only those convicted of sexual abuse, but also those who have confessed or have been "credibly accused.”

She said experts have said that only a small percentage of sexual abusers are ever convicted for their crimes.

"Victims are intimidated,” Clohessy said. "Predators are shrewd. Police are overworked. Prosecutors are timid and laws are archaic and restrictive.”

Burleson, senior pastor of Emanuel Baptist Church in Enid, said he was asked Tuesday if he thought there has been widespread sexual abuse within the convention. The answer, he said, is no, but a predator database still is needed.

"What I'm saying is if there's one case or even 1 percent, if you have one pastor abusing his authority and preying on women and children, that's too much for the SBC,” he said.

Moot point?

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page said Burleson's request was a "moot point” because the convention's executive committee is already exploring ways the denomination can combat sexual predators in the clergy.

However, Page said "it was good to see” others are concerned about the issue as well.

He said he did not know whether a database is the solution to the problem because it has its limits. Page said a predator listed in one denomination's database could simply go to another denomination.