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US Southern Baptist leaders stonewalled, denigrated sex abuse victims: Report

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People pray at the annual Southern Baptist Convention gathering on June 15, 2021, in Nashville, Tennessee. (File photo by AP)

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the US, silenced and denigrated sexual abuse survivors over two decades ago, a new investigation has revealed.

According to the scathing 288-page investigative report by Guidepost Solutions, released on Sunday, a few senior members of the largest Protestant Christian denomination in the US, aided by counselors, stonewalled and denigrated sex abuse victims to protect their reputations.

For about two decades, these survivors and other concerned Southern Baptists had repeatedly shared allegations of sex abuse in the church with the SBC's executive committee, "only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC," the report based on seven-month investigation states.

"Our investigation revealed that, for many years, a few senior EC leaders, along with outside counsel, largely controlled the EC's response to these reports of abuse ... and were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC," notes the report.

"In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.”

The report noted that an EC staffer had kept a list of Baptist ministers accused of abuse, but there was no indication anyone “took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches”.

“While stories of abuse were minimized, and survivors were ignored or even vilified, revelations came to light in recent years that some senior SBC leaders had protected or even supported alleged abusers,” the report states.

SBC President Ed Litton, in a statement Sunday, said he was “grieved to my core” for the victims, calling on Southern Baptists to prepare to change the denomination's culture and implement reforms.

“I pray Southern Baptists will begin preparing today to take deliberate action to address these failures and chart a new course when we meet together in Anaheim,' Litton said, referring to the June 14-15 meeting of the 13 million-member denomination in California City.

The report makes key recommendations such as forming an independent commission and establishing a permanent administrative entity to oversee comprehensive long-term reforms concerning sexual abuse and related misconduct within the SBC.

The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported in 2019 that more than 700 victims had been abused by pastors, leaders, and volunteers in Southern Baptist congregations.

The report was reminiscent of the Roman Catholic Church scandal.

In 2002, the Boston Globe published a shocking report about predator priests who had preyed on young boys and girls and church leaders covering up the scandal.

The widespread child sexual abuse cases gave impetus to efforts by legislators to make it easier to prosecute such cases.

The leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, said in an official Vatican statement released on August 16, 2018, that he was “on the side” of the sexual abuse survivors.

"Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent," the Vatican statement said.

"There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow," it added.

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