Monday, October 22, 2007

BGCT's Secret File is Tip of Iceberg

Not quite a year ago, I stood with SNAP members Debbie Vasquez, Susan Dancer, Ron Dancer, and Kris Galland outside the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and urged the BGCT to disclose the names of reported child-molesting ministers who are in the BGCT’s secret file. That’s right. The BGCT has a file. They’ve had it since early 2000. A minister’s name could get into that secret file if he was reported by a church and if the BGCT determined there was “substantial evidence” of sexual abuse.

You might imagine that disclosure of those ministers’ names would be a no-brainer. In this day and time, how could anyone possibly believe that such information could rightly be kept secret?

Yet the BGCT does keep that information secret. They defend it by calling it “confidential;” I call it “secret.” Whichever word you use, the reality remains the same: The people who most need to know – i.e., the parents in the pews – have still not been told the names of the ministers in that file.

How many molesting ministers’ names are in that file and how many kids have they hurt? Why aren’t the parents of Baptist kids entitled to know which ministers’ names are in that file?

I asked those same two questions over a year ago in a Dallas Morning News op-ed piece. The questions are just as valid today as they were then.

Last year, we also urged the BGCT to begin archiving abuse reports received from abuse victims, and not merely abuse reports received from church officials. Why? Because all too often church officials try to keep scandal a secret, and perpetrators wind up moving on to other churches. It’s a well-known pattern.

Just a few months ago, Joe Trull said that the BGCT’s confidential file contains “about 11 cases involving clergy abuse with minors.” Since it’s a secret file, we are afforded no alternative other than to simply take Trull’s word as to the number. However, Trull himself acknowledged that these 11 are “just the tip of the iceberg” because churches don’t have to report cases to the BGCT and “aren’t likely to.”

“In the normal scenario, they just try to keep it secret,” said Trull.

So…the BGCT receives clergy abuse reports only from churches, and not from victims, even though the BGCT knows full-well that most churches don’t report abuse. That doesn’t seem very functional, does it? It’s certainly not a system that’s likely to be effective for protecting kids and ridding the ranks of clergy predators.

Even in the rare case when a church actually does report abuse, the names that comprise even that most-substantiated “tip of the iceberg” will still remain secret anyway. They sit in that secret file cabinet at the BGCT.

Who are the Baptist clergy-perpetrators in those 11 “tip of the iceberg” cases? Why aren’t the parents of kids in Baptist churches entitled to know at least that much?

The BGCT’s annual meeting is coming up again at the end of October. How many more annual meetings will come and go before Texas Baptists finally rise up out of their pews and say “Protect our kids!”

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