Southern Baptists Release List of Alleged Church-Affiliated Sex Abusers to Fight 'Heinous' Scourge
06:39 GMT 27.05.2022 (Updated: 11:13 GMT 27.05.2022)
© AP Photo / Julio CortezThe cross on top of the First Baptist Church is silhouetted in front of the sun on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, in Simpsonville, S.C. South Carolina is gearing up for a total solar eclipse, which will cross the state diagonally during a phenomenon that will be seen across the country
© AP Photo / Julio Cortez
On 22 May a bombshell report compiled by a third-party investigator revealed that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) - a US-based Christian denomination - had a secret internal list of around 703 ministers and church workers suspected of abuse, compiled by an employee of its executive committee.
Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBP) have released a 205-page document which had previously been kept secret of hundreds of ministers and other church-affiliated personnel described as being “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.
The database was published late on Thursday on the denomination’s website and contains more than 700 entries from cases spanning from 2000 to 2019.
The release of the list was “an initial, but important, step towards tackling the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention,” said Pastor Rolland Slade, the chairman of the denomination’s executive committee, and Dr Willie McLaurin, the committee’s interim president and chief executive, in a statement. They added:
“Our prayer is that the survivors of these heinous acts find hope and healing, and that churches will utilise this list proactively to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us.”
On 24 May, leaders in the SBC announced that they were preparing to release the internal list after its existence was revealed on Sunday in an explosive report on the US-based Christian denomination’s handling of sexual abuse over the past two decades.
Delegates at the denomination’s annual meeting in the summer of 2021 voted to commission the report after mounting pressure from sexual abuse victims, demanding that the executive committee hand over confidential documents in cooperation.
The report, compiled by a third-party investigator, alleged that the denomination’s leadership had suppressed complaints of sexual abuse, resisted proposals for reform, and denigrated and discouraged abuse victims who sought help from them. Furthermore, the report maintained there was an internal list of around 703 people suspected of abuse, which had been compiled by the denomination’s executive committee staff member and shared with D August Boto, the committee’s former vice-president and general counsel.
The executive committee is a body of 86 representatives from across the US that helps direct the convention’s activities and finances.
It was alleged that August Boto and the staff member in question had both retired in 2019. There has not been any official comment from Boto.
Abuse Allegations Spanning Decades
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the US with almost 14 million members and more than 47,000 churches in all 50 states.
Southern Baptists are reported to have sporadically grappled with sex abuse allegations for years, which explains why the published list covers offences going back decades.
Each entry in the database includes the name of the alleged offender, the year the abuse claim was reported, the US state where it purportedly took place and a brief summary of the accusations.
It also contains links to germane news articles, as many of the names had already cropped up in a major investigation into abuse allegations by The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
The entries on the list also include the alleged offender’s denomination, with most appearing to belong to the Southern Baptist Convention. Some of the entries, however, are affiliated with other Baptist traditions.
One entry, for example, refers to Derek Wayne Hutter, a youth minister at Garland Baptist Church in Texas. The man pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of enticement of a minor and was sentenced to 264 months in federal prison. At the time, The Dallas Morning News reported that Hutter had induced a 13-year-old girl in his group to have sex with him on 20 occasions both at the church and at the minister’s home.
The report that was revealed on 22 May stated that as far back as 2007 the committee’s general counsel, James Guenther, had argued the need for linking the SBC denomination’s website to such a database of alleged offenders.
“It would fit our polity and present ministries to help churches in this area of child abuse and sexual misconduct,” he had reportedly written, advising “immediate action.”
Boto failed to take any action, claimed the report.
Ahead of the list’s publication on Thursday, Gene Besen, the SBC executive committee’s interim counsel, and his team spent several days redacting the names of survivors and any claims they could not substantiate through news reports and other sources.
The denomination said that an individual was “credibly accused” if he or she had “confessed in court to the allegations or in another setting not protected by legal privacy claims; has been convicted in a criminal court; had a civil judgment rendered against them, or had an accusation against them deemed credible by a third party hired by a Baptist body.”
Furthermore, the denomination announced the creation of its own confidential hotline for abuse victims, to be maintained by Guidepost Solutions, the company that produced the report. The hotline was touted as “an important stopgap measure for survivors” ahead of the denomination’s annual meeting.