Friday, May 21, 2010

Among Baptists, who will give a hoot?

Recent news from the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver is troubling, but it's also enlightening. It reminds me of how far behind the curve Baptists are in addressing clergy sex abuse within their own ranks.

“For the second time in little more than a month, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has suspended a priest on an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.”

Last week, Chaput placed Father Dorino DeLazzer on administrative leave and released a public statement, saying: “I received a credible allegation against him for past sexual misconduct with a minor that reportedly occurred in the early 1970s before Father DeLazzer served in Colorado.”

The announcement about DeLazzer’s suspension comes just a month after Chaput removed another priest from ministry. In mid-April, Chaput removed Rev. Melvin Thompson after receiving a report from a man who said he had been sexually abused by Thompson more than 35 years ago. The archdiocese began an internal investigation.

Neither case is likely to face any criminal investigation or prosecution because of the statute of limitations. Thus, this news made its way into the light of day, not because of action taken by secular officials, but because of action taken by officials within the faith group. However troubling the news may be, the fact that a high church official made the allegations public will at least give parents the possibility of talking with their kids about it.

I can’t help but ponder how different it would have been if these abuse allegations had been made against Baptist clergy.

For example, what about the man who says that, as an adolescent boy, he was abused by a Southern Baptist evangelist who used to be a leader in North Carolina and who wrote a book that, on the back cover, was “strongly endorsed” by former SBC president James T. Draper? He says another Southern Baptist minister can substantiate the abuse and that the evangelist’s wife knew about it as well. But what process exists in Baptistland for even assessing this man’s allegations, much less for actually helping him? Who will give a hoot?

And what about the woman who says that, as an adolescent girl, she was sexually abused by a Southern Baptist preacher in Georgia? She says that she reported it to Georgia Baptist officials, but to no avail. Baptists have no process for responsibly assessing her abuse report, and they sure as heck haven’t offered her any help. She still sees the preacher’s name on the church’s sign whenever she drives by. Who will give a hoot?

And what about the man who says that, as a kid, he was sexually abused by the Baptist preacher who was in charge of a Middle Eastern orphanage. . . and who is still there. . . and who is still being supported as a mission outreach by a Baptist church in Texas? He’s tried repeatedly to tell people about it. He’s tried to protect the kids who are still at the orphanage. But no one pays any attention, and by now, he’s pretty much given up. Who will give a hoot?

And what about the two men who say that, as adolescent boys, they were abused by a Southern Baptist minister in Louisiana? They’ve reported it to Southern Baptist officials in Nashville; and Louisiana Baptist officials were also told. One of the men says he reported it several times over the course of several years, and I saw with my own eyes the response he got back from Nashville on his last attempt. It was a mini-sermon on forgiveness and a lecture on autonomy. Meanwhile, the man they reported remains in ministry. Who will give a hoot?

And what about the man who says that, as an adolescent, he was sexually abused by a very prominent Southern Baptist leader in Texas? I expect there are plenty of Baptist honchos who know about this one, but it’s been hushed up. A lawsuit was filed, but when it came to light that there was a corroborating witness, the lawsuit was quickly settled with a secrecy agreement. And now, people are afraid to talk. Who will give a hoot?

All of these, and many more, remain mired in secrecy in Baptistland. Who will give a hoot?

Who in Baptistland will set up a system that will allow cases such as these to come to light without further threats, bullying, and intimidation of the victims who attempt to speak?

And what about last week’s conviction and sentencing of Southern Baptist pastor Jack Duffer in Virginia? On blogs, I’ve seen Baptists bragging that Duffer’s Virginia church did everything right because it suspended Duffer from ministry after his arrest. That’s what many Baptists apparently believe should give them bragging rights. But what if the case against Duffer had been too old for criminal prosecution, as the Catholic cases in Denver were? What if, rather than an arrest, it had been nothing more than an allegation presented to Virginia Baptist officials? Would they have suspended Duffer from ministry based on nothing more than an allegation presented to them? What process do Baptists have for even assessing such allegations? Who would give a hoot?

Before moving to Virginia, Duffer stepped down from a five-year stint as pastor of University Avenue Baptist Church in Honolulu. Do you think Baptist officials have made any effort to reach out to any possible prior victims that Duffer may have had in Hawaii? I’ve never seen such a thing happen in Baptistland. By contrast, in Denver, the archbishop released to the press a public statement about an allegation of clergy abuse that occurred outside Colorado and that occurred more than 30 years ago. Where is the public statement from Baptist officials to the people of Hawaii about, not merely an allegation, but an actual conviction of sexual abuse against Baptist preacher Jack Duffer? Who will give a hoot?

One thing for sure. . . someone should give a hoot. As quoted in the Denver Post, Penn State professor Philip Jenkins said that, “in 20 years of research, he found no credible evidence that Catholic priests are more likely to be involved in sexual abuse than clergy of any other denomination.”

So Baptists likely have just as big a problem with clergy sex abuse as the Catholics, and yet Baptists still can’t bring themselves to even attempt to implement the sorts of safeguard mechanisms that other major faith groups already have. Among Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the land, there exists no denominational office to which victims may safely report clergy abuse, no system for responsibly assessing abuse reports, no effective record-keeping on victims’ abuse reports, and no mechanism for notifying people in the pews about credible allegations.

In Baptistland, who gives a hoot?

[rev. 5/22/10]


Elana D. said...

I accidentally stumbled onto this blog a few weeks ago and left a comment about how shocked I was to be a member of a Baptist church and to have never heard a word about any of this.
Nevertheless, though, I am a Baptist and I DO give a hoot!
I looked around for a class in recogizing signs of sexual abuse in children and how to spot child sexual a Baptist church in my area and couldn't find anything. So I contacted a local Catholic church and signed up for a two hour seminar entitled "Protecting God's Children."
It was wonderfully helpful and informative. It taught me early warning signs of child sex abuse, and how to control access to the children in my church. It gave me tools for spotting potential sexual offenders and the importance of monitoring all programs that include children/adults. I learned that child abusers are attracted to wherever they can get the most unlimited access to children: churches/places with lax standards regarding children! There were also two videos we watched (both very disturbing) containing confessions from both children that had been abused and two abusers. I was predator admitting to molesting more than 500 children!
I plan to take this information back to my church and demand changes in our policy. Now I feel like I can implement changes in my church to make a difference in the lives our most vulnerable members and my own two children.
Thanks, Christa, for such a great site, I feel completely energized and vigilant...why couldn't Baptist churches offer something like "Protecting God's Children" in their churches? Does anybody know why not?

Christa Brown said...

Elana, Because most child molesters have more than one victim, and because so many victims are unable to speak of it until many years later, the best way to prevent clergy sex abuse in the future is to institutionally listen to those who are trying to tell about abuse in the past and to keep records on abuse reports. This is what Baptists are nowhere close to doing, and individual churches cannot effectively do this on their own. Thanks for your interest and efforts, Elana. I hope you will also write to your state and national denominational leaders and urge effective action for the creation of a denominational office to which clergy abuse survivors may safely report abuse with some reasonable expectation that their reports will be responsibly and objectively assessed.

From my perspective, so long as Baptists have no system for doing anything about abuse they are actually told about, I think there is little reason to believe that they will be able to prevent abuse they don't yet know about.