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Baptist Clergy Sex-Abuse Case Settled Out of Court

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A Texas Baptist church and its pastor have reportedly settled a lawsuit with a woman who claimed the minister molested, raped and got her pregnant when she was a minor.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reported Sunday that Debbie Vasquez, 47, dropped a lawsuit she filed in 2006 against Pastor Dickie Amyx and Bolivar Baptist Church. The story quoted court documents saying the settlement included payment of $22,500–$15,000 from Amyx and $7,500 from the church–and that after paying her attorney and court costs she would receive a little less than $10,000.

Vasquez’ story, reported in media including EthicsDaily.com and the advocacy Web site StopBaptistPredators.com, caused members of the SBC Executive Committee to voice outrage when they discussed it in a February work group meeting about the feasibility of establishing a denomination-wide database of clergy sex offenders in the SBC.

The full Executive Committee was expected to consider the idea, referred to it by last year’s convention, in time for a report at this year’s SBC annual meeting, which starts today in Indianapolis.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said it didn’t expect the gathering to produce any real reform. Last week SBC Life, an Executive Committee publication sent to all churches, devoted an entire eight-page pullout section on child sexual abuse aimed at helping churches better protect themselves against predators. Baptist Press said the report would be available to messengers meeting this week.

“Educating people about abuse is fine, but warning people about credibly accused clergy is far better,” Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP’s outreach director, said in a press release.

According to Vasquez’ lawsuit, Amyx began abusing her when she was 14 and he was 28. He was married and a seminary student who worked with a bus ministry that drove her to church. She claimed he forced himself on her sexually when she was 15, after he had become her youth minister.

She became pregnant with his child when she was 18 and was forced to go before the church to confess to being an unwed mother but told not to identify Amyx as the father, because it would hurt the church.

According to media reports, Amyx admitted the child was his and that he paid child support for nine years after he was ordered by a judge when the child was 9 years old. He claimed he never had sex with Vasquez before she turned 17, at that time the age of consent in Texas. He has been pastor of Bolivar Baptist Church since 1979.

Amyx told the Denton newspaper he was glad the lawsuit was over.

Amyx’s wife told the newspaper her husband was put on paid administrative leave in January 2007 after a news story appeared about the case in the local newspaper. He has not preached a sermon since then, the article said, but continues to be paid as pastor and to be a church member. Melinda Amyx teaches Sunday school and plays piano for the church.

The lawsuit alleged that Bolivar Baptist Church “knew or should have known” about the abuse when Amyx was hired and that he was acting as a church agent when some of the abuse occurred.

According to the Record-Chronicle, the settlement included a written apology from Amyx. Vasquez said she wanted the case to go to trial to help shine light on the problem of clergy sexual abuse, but her lawyer advised her to settle because the suit had dragged on for so long that a time deadline was approaching and it was in danger of being dismissed.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Previous related stories:

Executive Committee Still Studying Feasibility of Clergy Sex-Offender Database

SBC Leaders Deny Charge of Unresponsiveness about Clergy Sex Abuse

Southern Baptist Leaders Challenged to Get Tough on Sex Abuse by Clergy

Clergy Sex-Abuse Survivor Questions Fairness of SBC Executive Committee Study