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Mistakes, Apologies and
Clergy Child Molesters

by Christa Brown, SNAP-Baptist Coordinator

Recent events revealed how quickly Southern Baptist officials can mobilize their resources when they want to. They wasted no time using the Baptist Press to vindicate their own hurt feelings.  

How I wish they would mobilize that same resource for protecting kids.

For those who haven’t followed this story, let me bring you up to speed.

SNAP made a mistake. We repeatedly said Southern Baptist officials had not responded to our September 26 letter, sent certified and by hand-delivery, asking for specific action to make kids safer in Baptist churches.

The Southern Baptist Convention had indeed responded by letter dated September 29 and sent by regular mail to SNAP’s Chicago office. It sat in a pile and wasn’t forwarded to any of the SNAP leaders. (SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is a grass-roots support group whose work is done mostly by volunteers.)

As soon as we learned of the mistake, we forthrightly apologized to SBC officials, both publicly and privately, we informed reporters, and we made a SNAP news release.

So we were surprised when SBC officials immediately mobilized their press arm to assert that SNAP had made “false accusations” and “false charges.”

Falsehood connotes deception. SNAP was undeserving of such a bald mischaracterization of its mistake.

Moreover, SBC officials are still unresponsive to the serious problem of clergy sex abuse. SNAP stands by that statement and does not make any apology for it.

The SBC ’s September 29 letter didn’t afford them any bragging rights. It was a terse brush-off that ended by saying “continued discourse between us will not be positive or fruitful.” It wasn’t a response on the substance of SNAP’s requests.

This episode is troubling because it shows Southern Baptist officials to be more focused on the illusion of public appearances than on the real need to protect kids.

We are also deeply troubled by the apparent ignorance that SBC officials have shown in their Baptist Press remarks.

“The proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement officials,” said SBC official D. August Boto. Yet, it is well-known that most clergy abuse cases cannot be prosecuted because the psychological damage often prevents victims from reporting the abuse until it is too late.

SNAP consistently urges victims to report the crimes to police, but we also know that most district attorneys will not direct resources into investigating a case when the time limit for prosecution has passed. That’s the real world.

If Baptist leaders choose to wait until there is a criminal conviction before they warn a congregation about a credibly reported minister, most clergy-predators will easily stay hidden.

This is also why background checks are not nearly enough to protect kids. A sexual predator has no better than a 3% chance of ever being apprehended; so most don’t have criminal histories.

Even when churches check with prior employers, suspected abuse incidents are often not disclosed. Whether this is because other ministers cover for their colleagues, or fear being sued by colleagues (as some ministers have told us), or simply choose to turn a blind eye, this pattern is very common. More must be done if kids are to be made safer.

SBC officials state that, if they are provided with “dependable” and “reliable” information about abuse, they will review it. Who will review it? And what exactly will anyone actually do?

Fabricated allegations of child sex abuse constitute only 1 to 4 percent of reported cases. It is therefore critical that SBC officials treat even mere allegations very seriously. They themselves should be proactive in ascertaining whether credible information supports allegations. But they have no process for doing that.

Seven months ago, SNAP asked SBC officials to launch an investigation into the abysmal  mishandling of my own abuse report so as to learn from it and make changes. That report showed substantiation by another Baptist minister, who eventually made a sworn statement attesting to knowledge of the abuse. Yet, the SBC wrote that it had no record the perpetrator was still in ministry, even though he was actually in children’s ministry at a Southern Baptist church in Florida.

Many months later, after I myself found him, and after the Baptist General Convention of Texas confirmed his listing in its confidential file of “known offenders,” I again notified the SBC, along with numerous other church and denominational leaders, but still to no avail. If even this sort of information is not considered “dependable” or “reliable” enough for SBC officials to treat seriously, predators will stay in pulpits.

SNAP has no reason to think SBC officials would now handle an abuse report any better than they did with mine. Every parent in a Baptist pew should be concerned about that.

Finally, since this is about mistakes and apologies, where is the SBC’s long-overdue apology for having misdirected me into thinking my perpetrator was no longer in ministry? Even if the SBC had no record of him (despite his having been the long-time ministerial colleague of a former SBC president), shouldn’t Baptist officials have taken steps to locate him?

Do SBC officials even recognize that this failure was a mistake on their part? SNAP has no reason to think so. Yet, with the safety of kids at stake, it was a matter much more serious than a mere misplaced letter.

And where is the SBC’s apology to Florida parents whose kids were left at risk?

How many more kids could be made safer if SBC officials would mobilize their Baptist Press, not merely to promote appearances, but to actually inform congregations about credibly reported clergy child molesters?

March 20007