A new, sweeping investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reveals 20 years of sexual abuse allegations within the Southern Baptist Church, with over 700 victims, including many children—some as young as 3 years old. Three hundred eighty Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have been accused of rape, abuse and various forms of sexual misconduct. Around 220 of those have been convicted of sex crimes or were given plea deals. The report also found that members of the church pressured some women to get abortions after becoming pregnant as a result of assault, or threatened to shun them from the church. The church is the largest Protestant denomination in the country. The report has prompted calls for investigations into the church and their role in covering up and enabling the abuse.
Robert Downen, Lise Olsen, and John Tedesco:
Thirty-five years later, Debbie Vasquez’s voice trembled as she described her trauma to a group of Southern Baptist leaders.
She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.
In June 2008, she paid her way to Indianapolis, where she and others asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention and its 47,000 churches to track sexual predators and take action against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to consider prevention policies like those adopted by faiths that include the Catholic Church.
“Listen to what God has to say,” she said, according to audio of the meeting, which she recorded. “… All that evil needs is for good to do nothing. … Please help me and others that will be hurt.”
Days later, Southern Baptist leaders rejected nearly every proposed reform.
The abusers haven’t stopped. They’ve hurt hundreds more.
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.
They left behind more than 700 victims, 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.
About 220 offenders have been convicted or took plea deals, and dozens of cases are pending. They were pastors. Ministers. Youth pastors. Sunday school teachers. Deacons. Church volunteers.
Nearly 100 are still held in prisons stretching from Sacramento County, Calif., to Hillsborough County, Fla., state and federal records show. Scores of others cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders. Some still work in Southern Baptist churches today.
At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades. In some cases, church leaders apparently failed to alert law enforcement about complaints or to warn other congregations about allegations of misconduct.
Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit. Others remain there, including a Houston preacher who sexually assaulted a teenager and now is the principal officer of a Houston nonprofit that works with student organizations, federal records show. Its name: Touching the Future Today Inc.
Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms. A few were adults — women and men who sought pastoral guidance and instead say they were seduced or sexually assaulted.
And thus I clothe my naked villainy with old odd ends, stolen forth from holy writ. And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.