Speed Reads

Sexual abuse

Report: Hundreds of Southern Baptist leaders and workers sexually abused at least 700 people since 1998

In June 2008, Debbie Vasquez and other sexual abuse survivors traveled to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual gathering and pleaded with the convention to track sexual predators who worked at the SBC's 47,000 affiliated churches, sanctioning those that harbored or hid predatory abusers. Vasquez — who says her Southern Baptist pastor sexually molested her starting at 14, and her church urged her to get an abortion when he impregnated her at 18 — pleaded with SBC leaders to enact abuse-prevention policies like the U.S. Catholic Church had done years earlier, according to a recording she shared with the Houston Chronicle.

SBC leaders declined to act, the Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported Sunday, so the newspapers compiled their own list. They found that since that 2008 meeting, more than 250 people who worked or volunteered in Southern Baptist churches nationwide — pastors, youth ministers, deacons, Sunday school teachers — have been charged with sex crimes. And since 1998, at least 380 SBC leaders or volunteers have been charged or credibly accused of abuse, leaving behind more than 700 victims. About 220 offenders were convicted of sex-related crimes or took plea deals. Some of these convicted and registered sex offenders still preach at Southern Baptist churches, including one who also heads a Houston nonprofit that works with schoolchildren, Touching the Future Today Inc.

Southern Baptist leaders knew there was a sexual abuse problem, they tell the Chronicle, but they were powerless to act because of the core autonomy and independence accorded each Southern Baptist church. Some leaders are implicated in abuse or cover-ups themselves. "The SBC has ended its affiliation with four churches in the past 10 years for affirming or endorsing homosexual behavior," the Chronicle notes. "The SBC governing documents ban gay or female pastors. They do not outlaw convicted sex offenders from working in churches." The inaction beyond prayers "is the greatest tragedy of all," David Pittman, whose abuser still works as a youth minister despite his warnings, told the Chronicle. "So many people's faith is murdered. I mean, their faith is slaughtered by these predators." Read more at the Houston Chronicle.