SAN ANTONIO — Hundreds of Southern Baptist church leaders and workers have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, including dozens who returned to church duties, according to a joint investigation by two newspapers.
The San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that their six-month investigation found about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and workers who were accused of sexual misconduct since 1998, leaving more than 700 victims. Some were as young as 3, while others were adults when they were abused, the newspapers reported.
About 220 offenders — among them pastors, ministers, Sunday school teachers, deacons and church volunteers — have been convicted or have taken plea deals, with dozens of cases still pending. Nearly 100 are still in prison, according to state and federal records. Dozens of others made plea deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders, and some have returned to the pulpit. At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches.
Several past presidents and prominent Southern Baptist Convention leaders have been accused by victims of concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their churches or seminaries, the newspapers reported.
In 2008, a victim implored SBC leaders to track sexual predators, act against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers and establish sexual abuse prevention policies such as those adopted by other faiths, including the Roman Catholic Church. But the SBC Executive Committee rejected the proposals.
The committee’s interim president, August Boto, who drafted that rejection document, expressed “sorrow” on Sunday about the newspapers’ findings.
“It would be sorrow if it were 200 or 600 cases. Sorrow. What we’re talking about is criminal. The fact that criminal activity occurs in a church context is always the basis of grief. But it’s going to happen. And that statement [he drafted in 2008] does not mean that we must be resigned to it,” he told the newspapers.
The Rev. J.D. Greear, who was elected as the SBC’s president in June, said the abuses described in the news report “are pure evil.”