Friday, December 28, 2007

Texas Baptists' Keeper of Secrets

The new interim executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is Jan Daehnert, the long-time keeper of the BGCT’s ugliest secrets -- the secrets about Baptist ministers who molested kids.

Previously, Daehnert was the director of the BGCT’s Office of Minister-Church Relations. That’s the office that maintains the secret file of ministers reported by churches for sexual abuse. Because Daehnert ran that office for so long, I figure he probably knows more than anyone else about what’s in that secret file.

I met with Daehnert in person in late 2004, and also had several phone conversations and email exchanges with him. Daehnert is the one who ultimately sent me this email saying that the BGCT had placed my perpetrator, Tommy Gilmore, in their file.

According to the BGCT’s published policy at the time, this meant that Gilmore’s name had to have been submitted by a church (not merely by me), and that there was either a confession or “substantial evidence” the abuse took place. The BGCT’s booklet, Broken Trust, describes it as the file of “known offenders.”

Because at least one other minister knew about Gilmore’s abuse of me as a kid, I assumed that Gilmore’s name was placed in the BGCT’s file based on a determination of “substantial evidence.” But I also think it’s likely that Gilmore simply confessed.

Oh…he probably wouldn’t have called it “abuse.” And he probably would have minimized his own conduct and shoved blame onto me. That’s what clergy perpetrators almost always do: they contrive ways to blame their child/adolescent victims. Nevertheless, I figure it’s likely he said things that amounted to an admission. Besides, he had already admitted it to the music minister of the church, and probably to the senior pastor, and so he may have admitted it to BGCT people as well.

But whether his name got in that secret file based on “substantial evidence” or a confession, don’t you think it’s information that people in the pews should have been told?

If your kids went to a church where Tommy Gilmore worked as a children’s minister, wouldn’t you want to know?

Is it morally right for Jan Daehnert and BGCT officials to keep that sort of information secret?

The answer, of course, is “NO.” It’s not right. It can’t possibly be. Any fool can see that….any fool EXCEPT Daehnert and other BGCT officials, who have allowed themselves to be blinded by their own complicity.

Tommy Gilmore was able to continue working in children’s ministry in Florida even after the BGCT put his name in that secret file. Rather than warning people, Daehnert and other BGCT officials were content to keep quiet and leave other kids at risk.

That reality just about drove me nuts.

Daehnert and other BGCT officials should have immediately taken proactive steps to warn the people in the pews in Florida and in every church where Gilmore worked. But that didn’t happen. The only way the secret news about Tommy Gilmore finally made its way into the public light was because I myself pushed it there via a lawsuit. (It was publicity that the BGCT's long-time attorney tried to prevent by preemptively threatening to sue ME if I pursued the matter.)

Given the recent accusations against another former Texas pastor, Darrell Gilyard, you have to wonder whether his name might also be in that secret file at the BGCT. Did Daehnert know about Gilyard, who is now accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to an underage teen in Florida?

According to the Dallas Morning News, a lot of people say they previously reported Gilyard to former Southern Baptist president Paige Patterson and to officials at First Baptist of Dallas. Did they in turn report Gilyard to the BGCT? If not, why not? And if they did, why didn’t the BGCT warn people in Florida?

Daehnert once tried to justify the BGCT’s secrecy by explaining that the information is given “in confidence by congregations that have had ministers confess or where substantial evidence has been uncovered.” They are reporting “something that is very troubling,” said Daehnert.

Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? The information is “very troubling” indeed, and that is exactly why it should NOT be kept secret.

Can you imagine what the response would be if a Catholic bishop were to say, “The information I have was given to me in confidence by priests who confessed to sexual abuse or by others in the parish who presented substantial evidence of abuse, and therefore I can’t disclose it.”

Nowadays, no one would accept that sort of excuse from a Catholic bishop.

So why do people accept it from Baptist leaders?

Daehnert also tried to minimize things by saying that the “majority of people on the list are there because of sexual misconduct between two adults, not for inappropriate action with minors.”

“Majority??” Even if we simply take Daehnert at his word, that still leaves us to wonder just how big the “minority” is. How many Baptist ministers are on that secret BGCT list because of having sexually abused a kid? And how many kids did they abuse?

Furthermore, under Texas law, it is a crime for a clergyman to use his position as spiritual adviser to sexually exploit another…even another adult. It’s not called sexual “misconduct;” it’s called a “felony.”

This means that the BGCT’s secret file could still be concealing criminal conduct even as to the “majority” that Daehnert claims are there because of "misconduct" with adults.

Try as he might, there’s just no way for Daehnert to sugar-coat this. The BGCT has bumbled badly, and it’s time to make amends. The secret list needs to be fully disclosed.

Upon his appointment, Daehnert said he hopes “to begin the healing” at the BGCT.

The only way “to begin the healing” is with absolute transparency, openness and accountability. That’s not going to happen until the BGCT tells people all the names of the reported clergy sex abusers who are listed in that secret file.

Parents are entitled to be warned; kids are entitled to be protected.

I’ll be the first to shout “Hallelujah” if I see some genuine indication that the BGCT is changing its dark and secretive ways. But until then, I don’t see Daehnert’s appointment as holding much hope for healing.

To the contrary, I can’t help but wonder if the very reason Daehnert was chosen is because other BGCT leaders know that Daehnert can be trusted to continue keeping their secrets.

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