According to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have hidden reports of sexual abuse for over 20 years. In 2018, reporters began searching archives, websites, and databases for allegations of sexual abuse, assault, and other serious misconduct. Since 1998, according to the newspapers, about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. About 220 of the accused have been convicted or taken plea deals, including pastors, ministers, and Sunday school teachers. As of 2019, when the report was released, at least 35 of the accused predators still worked at churches.
Church leadership has routinely silenced abuse survivors and ignored repeated calls to stop predators. A May 2022 investigation by Guidepost LLC, commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention after the newspaper investigation was released, found a list of 703 abusers in the possession of church staff, including 409 who were SBC-affiliated ministers at some point.
In 2007, victims requested the creation of a registry of convicted or credibly accused sex criminals. The Baptist General Convention of Texas, one of the largest state organizations, published a list of eight sex offenders in 2007.
August “Augie” Boto, a long-time leader of the church, with positions including General Counsel and interim president in 2008, acknowledged the problem in a 2007 email. Despite a plan from its attorney for a workable registry, the National Executive Committee rejected the concept. Most pastors are ordained locally, after convincing local elders that they qualify. In the absence of a central database, it is easy for a pastor to move from church to church. The Executive Committee, led by Mr. Boto, has repeatedly used this autonomy as an excuse.
According to the Guidepost investigation, a member of Mr. Boto’s staff has regularly sent him news of sexual abuse by ministers for over 10 years – but he has actively rejected reform proposals, calling survivors “opportunistic” and describing their efforts “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.”
The church has also refused to institute reforms recommended by experts to protect children. Some SBC leaders have protected or even supported abusers. Guidepost documents multiple SBC Presidents who refused to report child sex abuse and rape.
According to the Washington Post, the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a priest, and lawyer who investigated the Catholic sex abuse crisis warned the SBC Executive Committee in 2007 that he saw some of the same patterns. The leader of the Executive Committee at the time responded that they had no authority over local churches.
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