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Hundreds of sex offenders and sexual predators work in Southern Baptist Churches, including many who hold leadership positions, according to the findings of a recent investigative report that highlights the risk of church sexual abuse that has long gone under-recognized in the United States.
On Sunday, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express published the first of a three-part special report that indicates more than 220 Southern Baptist Church leaders, pastors, ministers, Sunday School teachers and volunteers have been convicted of sex crimes since 2008. Many still work at the churches, according to the report.
According to the findings, nearly 400 Southern Baptist Church leaders and volunteers have been charged with sexual misconduct since 1998, involving more than 700 victims. More than 100 are currently behind bars nationwide, and about 100 are registered sex offenders. However, many reached plea agreement deals and served no time.
According to the data and how the church has approached the sexual abuse problems, the issues do not appear likely to change any time soon, critics say.
The report details how victims asked the Southern Baptist Church to at least track sexual predators who worked in the church in 2008, and to act against churches that covered up sexual abuse and protected predatory pastors, ministers, deacons and youth leaders. However, the proposals were resoundingly rejected by church leadership.
Since that rejection, at least 250 additional volunteers and workers have been charged with sex crimes, according to the investigation. Many of the individuals who work in various positions in the church are convicted sex predators, and are sometimes even on sex offender registries, yet are given nearly unfettered access to children and other potential victims through the church activities.
The investigative reporters have constructed a database of Southern Baptist Church leaders convicted of sex crimes. At least 35 workers, including pastors and other employees, who were accused of sexual predation were allowed to continue working at the church, and in some cases the incidents of abuse were never reported.
The report also found that some never stopped preaching, and continue to lead congregations to this day.
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders who responded to the article said that the church’s structure makes oversight difficult, as the SBC has no power over individual churches, so it could not enforce the proposals made in 2008.
In March, SBC President, Frank Page, resigned for having a “morally inappropriate relationship” in the recent past, but the details of that relationship were not made public.
The investigation comes amid similar concerns regarding sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
In August 2018, a grand jury report highlighted cases involving at least 90 Catholic priests accused of sex abuse in the Pittsburgh area, involving allegations and cover-ups that spanned decades.
That report indicated that the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania covered up abuse involving priests who abused more than 1,000 victims, mostly children, over the course of 70 years. After 90 of those priests were identified, it sparked investigations by the Justice Department and states’ attorneys general nationwide.
The spotlight on the issue has renewed some efforts to level sex abuse litigation against the Church. Last month, an attorney representing a number of victims announced that the Catholic Church had agreed to settle at least five sexual abuse lawsuits brought against a former priest in New Jersey.