“Nearly 400 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have been implicated in a church-wide sexual abuse scandal and cover-up spanning two decades. A joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News released Sunday included devastating accounts from victims who suffered at the hands of trusted religious figures, many of whom returned to their positions even after being registered as sex offenders.
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From the report:
‘In all, since 1998, roughly 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, the newspapers found. That includes those who were convicted, credibly accused and successfully sued, and those who confessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any other state.’
Many offenders took plea deals and returned to their former posts — congregants were given no warning. The vast group of abusers included ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons and church volunteers.
The report notes that around 220 offenders were either convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are still pending. Accusations of abuse range from exposure to pornographic material, to rape and impregnation.
‘They left behind more than 700 victims,’ it reads, ‘many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to forgive their abusers or to get abortions.’
The victims range from children as young as 3, to ‘women and men who sought pastoral guidance and instead say they were seduced or sexually assaulted.’
The two newspapers’ six-month investigation, which included ‘reviewing thousands of pages of court, prison and police records and conducting hundreds of interviews,’ culminated in the creation of an extensive database of Southern Baptist leaders convicted of sex crimes.
The report also explains why the extent of the abuse is likely far greater than what could be documented:
‘Victims of sexual assault come forward at a low rate; many cases in churches are handled internally; and many Southern Baptist churches are in rural communities where media coverage is sparse.’
It notes also that Southern Baptist Convention leaders ‘have long been aware of the problem’ but chose not to act.”