Shining light on Baptist clergy sex abuse  
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Baptist General Convention of Texas:
Horrifically Blind

 

“Twice-blind” isn’t near enough to describe this organization’s failures on clergy sex abuse.

The Secret File

The Baptist General Convention of Texas keeps a secret file of ministers who are reported by churches for "sexual misconduct, including child molestation." These are ministers for whom there is either a confession or "substantial evidence" involving "sexual abuse of children." But those names sit in a file cabinet while the reported perpetrators stay in their pulpits and people in the pews aren't told.

Question: How can this possibly be morally right?

Answer:   It can't.

SNAP called for disclosure and urged the Baptist General Convention of Texas to make public its list of clergy predators.

The BGCT responded by saying that the file is "confidential...not secret."

Word games have no place when what's at stake is the safety of kids. Whether that file is called "confidential" or "secret," the important fact is that the information in it is not disclosed to the people who most need to know  --  i.e., the parents sitting in Baptist pews.

After the BGCT was named in a lawsuit, based in part on the existence of this secret file, you might imagine that the BGCT would have taken more proactive measures toward protecting kids. But instead, the BGCT back-pedaled and took measures to protect itself.

The Brokenness of "Broken Trust"

Back in 1998, the BGCT convened a committee to study the problem of clergy sex abuse. They had some meetings and published a booklet called “Broken Trust.” It stated that clergy sex abuse had reached "horrific proportions," and offered guidelines on how churches should handle reports of abuse. Then BGCT leaders put the booklet on a shelf, patted themselves on the back for it, and they’ve been doing that ever since.

Meanwhile, those of us who were victimized by clergy molesters are left with no help and the molesters are left in their pulpits.

In December 2004, the BGCT put portions of "Broken Trust" onto its website, and in June 2007, the BGCT revised some of the headings and shifted the website information around a bit. But the fundamental problems remain: (1) the BGCT receives abuse reports only from churches, and churches typically don't report abuse, and even in the rare instances when they do, the BGCT still doesn't warn people in the pews; (2) the BGCT doesn't help victims with counseling (unless the church requests it, which churches almost never do without first inflicting enormous additional anguish on the victim), and the BGCT doesn't reach out to find or minister to other victims.

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

 - Albert Einstein

 

Threats, Bullying and Secrecy

Five high-level BGCT leaders were informed about CB's substantiated reported involving a minister’s sexual assaults on her as a kid, and yet the man was allowed to remain in children’s ministry. People in the pews were not warned. Other kids were left at risk. And no help was provided - no help with counseling and no help with locating the perpetrator. To the contrary, the BGCT’s long-time lawyer threatened to sue CB . Guess that’s their idea of Christian compassion.

A year later, when intimidation and stonewalling tactics hadn't worked, the BGCT's long-time lawyer tried to get CB to sign a secrecy agreement. That's a reprehensible tactic that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops put an end to back in 2002. But Baptists still use them.

Even after CB pointed out to BGCT officials what their lawyer was doing - threatening to sue the victim - insulting the victim’s family - seeking secrecy agreements - BGCT leaders continued with the same lawyer. He didn’t lose any business because of his tactics against clergy abuse victims. The BGCT obviously approves. (The BGCT attempted to defend its secret file by explaining that it was established in consultation with the BGCT's attorney. Oh...and presumably this is the same attorney who tries to intimidate victims and who seeks secrecy agreements in order to silence them? His involvement provides no assurance of the moral legitimacy of the BGCT's secret file of clergy child molesters...to the contrary.)

Still another case recently settled with a secrecy agreement, and who do you think the BGCT’s lawyer was? The same one who tried to get CB to sign a secrecy agreement. And a decade ago, the BGCT tried to extract a secrecy agreement from another abuse victim, Deborah Dail, who was told the BGCT would help her with counseling only if she agreed "to never again talk to the press nor make her story public." Obviously, "strings are attached" for any victim who seeks help from the BGCT.

When you see that kind of thing continuing to happen - over and over again - you have to conclude that secrecy is exactly what the BGCT wants. (And of course, the very nature of a secrecy agreement means that, most of the time, you aren’t going to know about it. When you do, you should always wonder how many other victims have been successfully silenced...and how many clergy perpetrators have remained in their pulpits as a result.)

There have been NUMEROUS other cases in which people reported clergy sex abusers to the BGCT and received no help. Ministers remained in their pulpits and victims were left to deal with it as best they could. Despite what the BGCT says in its nice little booklet, the BGCT is NOT going to help the victims of clergy sex abuse and nor is it going to proactively warn people in other congregations.

The BGCT knows that clergy sex abuse has reached “horrific proportions,” and yet they choose blindness in equally “horrific proportions.”

The BGCT Brags

Here's the really scary part:  The BGCT likes to brag that, on the subject of clergy sex abuse, it takes a "strong stance" and does more than any other statewide Baptist organization in the country. Why? Because the BGCT keeps a secret file, but most other statewide Baptist organizations don't keep any file at all. Baptists are way behind the curve when it comes to protecting kids against clergy child molesters.

BGCT Doesn't Deserve to Brag

Still caught up in self-congratulatory bragging, the BGCT made press releases in June 2007 about how it was "cracking down" on clergy sex abuse. Why? Because the BGCT will now accept whatever churches tell them about a minister and will no longer review churches’ reports to determine whether there is “substantial evidence” of abuse. The BGCT packaged this change by saying it was making things easier for churches. (Compare: BGCT policy before June '07 and BGCT policy after June '07)

Of course, what everyone really knows is this: Most churches don’t report abuse - "they just try to keep it secret."

So why did the BGCT give so much attention to whether it should review church reports when everyone knows that churches don’t usually even make reports? Why did the BGCT address the rare issue instead of the real problem?

Some lawyers say the answer is obvious.

“It’s a no-brainer,” they say. “They’re trying to limit their exposure to liability.”


Rather than doing more to protect kids, the BGCT apparently chose to do more to protect itself. (Maybe the BGCT didn’t like getting named as a defendant in the recent case of Roush v. Reynolds.)

Bill Leonard’s recent remarks reminded me of all this. He’s dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School and a long-time observer of Southern Baptist life. He said that Baptist leadership “is in a precarious position because if it acknowledges an oversight role on curbing abuse, it exposes itself to lawsuits.”

“That’s the whole issue,” said Leonard. “That’s the fear.”

Don't Be Fooled: the BGCT Could Exercise Some Oversight If It Wanted
If the BGCT has the power and doesn't choose to help, then it's making a choice to protect itself instead of protecting kids.

Does it have the power? Sure. It's shown that in the past.

  • The BGCT has reviewed abuse reports submitted by churches to determine whether there was "substantial evidence" (Broken Trust at p. 37)
  • The BGCT has previously rejected some churches' abuse reports based on the BGCT's own determination that "substantial evidence" was lacking
  • The BGCT has provided "crisis guidance" to churches, including sending experts with "legal skills" to assist churches dealing with clergy abuse (Broken Trust at p. 36)
  • The BGCT has provided a ministers' counseling service to "restore" clergy perpetrators to ministry (Broken Trust at p. 36)
  • As part of its "restoration program" for clergy perpetrators, the BGCT imposed a 6-month prohibition on ministry involvement

These aspects of the BGCT's power are shown in its booklet "Broken Trust" - a booklet that still gets trotted out with pride at workshops.

In all of these past ways, the BGCT has shown that it has the power to exercise a measure of oversight. The fact that it chooses not to exercise the power doesn't mean that it doesn't have the power. It simply means that the BGCT has shown us where its priorities lie. It has made the tactical choice to try to better protect itself rather than the moral choice to better protect kids.

One Example of the Cost of BGCT Do-Nothingness

Despite multiple allegations of sexual assault and abuse, Baptist pastor Matt Baker moved easily through churches, schools and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He was always able to get away with it. No one stopped him.

He was even allowed to go to work as a chaplain at a psychiatric residential treatment facility for disturbed teens. In effect, Baptists simply threw a rattlesnake in with those confined kids.

Not until Baker was brought up on murder charges did people in the pews find out about what was described as the pastor's "secret life as a sexual predator."

This closed-mouth system is flat-out dangerous. It shouldn't take a murder to bring to light a pastor's career history of "preying on innocent people."