Top officials at the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in America, said Tuesday they will release a secret list of hundreds of pastors and other church workers accused of sex abuse.
An attorney for the SBC’s Executive Committee announced the decision during a virtual meeting convened in response to a devastating investigative report It details how the committee mishandled allegations of sexual abuse and blocked scores of survivors.
During the meeting, leaders and several committee members vowed to work towards changing the culture of the denomination and to listen more carefully to the voices and stories of survivors.
The 288-page Guidepost Solutions report, released Sunday after a seven-month investigation, contained several explosive revelations. Among them were details of how D. August Boto, former vice president and general counsel of the Executive Committee, and former SBC spokesman Roger Oldham maintained their own private list of abusive pastors. Both retired in 2019. The existence of the list was not widely known within the committee and its staff.
“Although these reports have been collected for more than 10 years, there is no indication that (Oldham and Boto) or anyone else took any action to ensure that the accused clergy no longer held positions of power in the SBC churches,” it said it in the report.
Boto joined the Executive Committee in 1995 and became Executive Vice President and General Counsel in 2007.
On Tuesday, the committee released a statement highlighting and denouncing Boto’s words, written in a statement to survivors and their advocates dated September 29, 2006, that “continued discourse between us (the Executive Committee and the survivors’ advocates ) will be neither positive nor fruitful .”
The committee said in its new statement it “dismisses the opinion (of Boto’s words) in its entirety and seeks to publicly repent for not correcting that position and to listen wholeheartedly to the survivors.”
Gene Besen, the committee’s interim attorney, said during Tuesday’s virtual meeting that the release of the list was an important step toward transparency. The names of survivors, confidential witnesses and any uncorroborated allegations of sexual abuse will be blacked out from the list that will be released, he said.
Besen said the committee chairs will also consider removing pension payments from Boto and others involved in the cover-up. He urged committee members to put aside previous divisions and remain united in a collective commitment to ending sex abuse in the SBC.
Willie McLaurin, interim President and CEO of the Executive Committee, formally issued a public apology to all who have suffered sexual abuse within the SBC, which includes over 47,000 churches.
“We feel sorry for the survivors for all we have done to cause pain and frustration,” he said. “Now is the time to change the culture. We need to be proactive about our openness and transparency from now on.”
Executive Committee Chair Wally Slade began the virtual meeting with a tribute to the survivors.
“Our obligation is to be different and act differently,” he said. “We must not offer half-baked solutions.”
After the report was released, more sex abuse survivors reached out to the Executive Committee to share their stories, Besen said. He said he asked Guidepost to set up a hotline so survivors who come forward “are directed to the right place and receive the right care.”
The Sexual Abuse Task Force, which was appointed at the request of SBC delegates during last year’s Nashville meeting, expects to release its formal requests based on the Guidepost report next week. Those recommendations will then be put before delegates for voting during this year’s national meeting scheduled for June 14-15 in Anaheim, Calif., according to Pastor Bruce Frank, who led the task force.
Frank, senior pastor at Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, North Carolina, said the core of the task force’s recommendations based on Guidepost’s report are to prevent sexual abuse, better care for survivors when such abuse occurs, and ensure that there are no abusers allowed to continue in ministry.
Survivors and proponents have long called for one public database of abusers. The creation of a “offender information system” was one of the key recommendations in the report by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm hired by the SBC’s executive committee, after delegates at last year’s national meeting pushed for an outside investigation.
The proposed database is expected to be one of several recommendations resulting from Guidepost’s seven-month investigation, presented to thousands of delegates attending this year’s national convention.
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