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Southern Baptist abuse report: Church leaders mishandled allegations and mistreated victims

Local pastor: It is incredibly shameful
Southern Baptist Convention headquarters in Nashville, TN
Posted at 8:56 PM, May 23, 2022

COVINGTON, Ky. — An independent investigation report released Sunday alleges the Southern Baptist Convention mishandled allegations of sexual abuse made against ministers, protected the abusers and mistreated victims.

There was also a secret list of 700 church staff members accused of abuse, but a small group of SBC executives hadn't shared it with local churches, according to the 288-page report.

An independent SBC task force hired Guideposts Solutions to conduct the investigation and publish a final report.

"I'm not surprised there were things hidden, but the depth and width of it is incredibly shameful," Latonia Baptist Church Pastor Don Francis said.

Francis, who has been a pastor of four Southern Baptist churches, said he felt "absolute despair and frustration" that the failures were done by people who believed they were protecting a mission based on teachings of Jesus Christ.

"When power gets ahold of a group and they believe they have theological conviction behind it, it's one of the most dangerous things you can have," Francis said.

The SBC, which claims 47,000 churches and 14 million members, is one of the largest denominations in the United States.

Online databases show three former staff ministers at local SBC churches have been convicted of abusing children. A former SBC minister in Virginia is now a registered sex offender living in West Chester.

"You're dealing with an evil that spans over years across our nation in these churches and in the denomination as a whole," Hannah Kate Williams said.

Williams, who lives in Kentucky, said her father — a former SBC church pastor — abused her. She filed a lawsuit last week against him, the SBC and others.

Abuse survivor advocates said the new report is an important step for the Southern Baptist church and survivors.

"This is a big step forward and it helps ease the burden that survivors have had," Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) Executive Director Zach Hiner said.

SNAP, founded in 1988, has focused on abuse by Catholic priests but has also criticized the SBC's response to allegations of abuse.

"Hopefully, that will rally the people in the pews to stand behind the survivors and say, 'Hey look, we don't want this to happen to our children or our friends," Hiner said.

Francis said an early test of SBC's commitment to reform will be the denomination's annual conference, which is scheduled for next month.

"I'm skeptical that anything will happen quickly, but I'm hopeful," said Francis.