Monday, December 10, 2007

Two Trinity suits tossed

Two of the civil suits against Jacksonville’s Trinity Baptist Church were recently tossed out of court because of the statute of limitations. Jane Doe 4 and Jane Doe 5, who were childhood victims of pastor Bob Gray, won’t even get the chance to prove up their claims in court because the law decrees that too much time has passed.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? These court decisions were handed down within days after the publication of Bob Gray’s own statements in which he admitted to the abuse of children.

Though many of his congregants refused to believe it, we now know what the truth was all along. Bob Gray sexually abused kids. Lots of them. The last count I saw, 22 people had reported being abused as kids by Bob Gray. And there could easily be more.

No one should forget that, when too many people started talking, Trinity’s response was to allow Gray to run off to the “mission-field” in Germany. What were they thinking? Germany also has kids, and those kids were also worthy of protection.

But of course, from beginning to end, it appears that Trinity was more interested in protecting itself rather than protecting kids.

It wasn’t religious leaders who brought the truth to light. To the contrary, even after more than a dozen victims had come forward, Baptist high-n-mighties continued to sing the praises of Trinity and minimized the scandal as a mere “bump in the road.”

It was ordinary people of extraordinary courage who brought the truth to light -- people like Jane Doe 4 and Jane Doe 5. They pushed forward against overwhelming odds, and thank God they did.

But the court ruled against them, you say? Yes, but not because their stories weren’t true. The court ruled against them because of a legal technicality….the statute of limitations.

In one case, the court pointed out that, “even recognizing the defendants’ obligation to report child abuse to the authorities,” which Trinity leaders apparently didn’t do, it still wouldn’t prevent the church from invoking the statute of limitations so as to avoid the lawsuit.

Here’s what that means in lay-person’s language. Even if church leaders break the law by failing to report child sex abuse to authorities, once the statute of limitations has run, they’re all home free. In effect, church leaders get to thumb their nose, shout “nanny nanny boo boo,” and get away with it. The law allows for that.

In the other case, the court’s decision listed these two allegations: (1) that Trinity “failed to disclose it had received reports of child sexual abuse by Dr. Gray before Plaintiff was abused”; and (2) that Trinity “representatives who met with Plaintiff denied that the church had received any reports of alleged abuse by Dr. Gray.” Even if these allegations are true, said the court, the statute of limitations would still apply so as to preclude the Plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Again…it’s the “nanny nanny boo boo you can’t catch me” tactic. If church leaders can just maintain a cover-up long enough, the statute of limitations will run, and then they all get to thumb their noses.

You might imagine that religious leaders would be above such tactics. You might even imagine that they would voluntarily waive the statute of limitations and say “We WANT to get to the truth and to know all that happened.”

Of course, such imaginings would be delusional. Religious leaders don’t have a good track record for truth-seeking on clergy sex abuse. It’s so much easier for them to simply save their own skins with the “nanny nanny boo boo” tactic.

Courts all across the country have handed down decisions similar to these involving Trinity. MOST clergy abuse lawsuits get thrown out on statute of limitations grounds.

Though the big dollar cases make headlines, cases like these are actually far more common. (And cases in which the victims aren’t even able to find lawyers who will file suit - because they can see that the case will likely be tossed on limitations - are even more common.)

Clergy abuse survivors who file lawsuits put themselves through the hell of depositions taken by hostile church attorneys who typically ask all manner of demeaning and degrading questions about the victims' sexual lives and sexual histories. All too often, the victims get absolutely nothing for going through that hell, and the attorneys who take the cases often LOSE money because they have to pay court reporters, expert consultants, and investigators, and they also lose the value of their time – time that could have more profitably been spent on some other sort of case that would have been a lot easier than a clergy abuse case.

So many people persist in believing the myth of the money-grubber plaintiff. Yet what happened here is closer to the usual reality.

I applaud the abuse survivors who brought these suits. The very fact that they and others filed lawsuits is, in large part, what allowed reporters to write about Trinity and to expose the abuse and cover-up. (For anyone who still doubts there was a cover-up, I’d suggest you look at this video showing a letter by Trinity's Senior Pastor Tom Messer… but of course no one else can open your eyes for you.)

I hope these courageous abuse survivors will not feel defeated, but will instead feel proud, as they rightly should. They made a difference. They exposed a predator. They exposed complicit blind-eyed church leaders. They inspired other victims. And they gave people in the community the opportunity to see the truth.

[Thanks to Christian School Confidential blogger Dwayne Walker for informing me and providing links to the court decisions.]


New BBC Open Forum said...

Bob Gray recently died. How would this have affected his victims' lawsuits had they not been thrown out by the courts? Can you sue a dead man?

Christa Brown said...

new bbc: The suits that were thrown out were suits against Trinity Baptist church, based on allegations that Tom Messer and other church leaders knew Gray was abusing kids, hushed it up, and did nothing.

Anonymous said...

Where do you find lawyers that would take this type of case that are within the statue of limitations?

Christa Brown said...

It's worth the effort to try to find someone who has handled clergy abuse cases before. There's a learning curve, and there are things about them that are counter-intuitive. Do some online research in the archives of the newspaper in your city and look for articles about clergy abuse lawsuits - or lawsuits against a Catholic priest or diocese - and see if the articles make mention of who the lawyer is. Or go to the SNAP website - - and look to see if there's a SNAP contact person in your city. They might know of a lawyer in your city who handles clergy abuse cases. Let me know how things go - feel free to email me.

Anonymous said...

Trinity might feel some temporary relief with those cases tossed due to the statue of limitations expiring, but one day they will stand before King Jesus where all secrets will be known and everything laid in the light. Praise God, the righteous Judge!

Anonymous said...

I live in Jacksonville where this occured. One thing to remember is that Trinity had members who were very influential such as one who was the city council president when the news broke and the suits were dismissed. The general feeling in town is that influential members and friends had a big effect on the outcome. In j-ville, it's not what you know, it's WHO you know. But God always knows and no-one walks their life unseen. Sign me as happily left the SBC as a teenager.