A self-help group for victims of clergy sexual abuse is asking the head of a Southern Baptist seminary to apologize for calling their organization “evil-doers.” The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests also requested a face-to-face meeting with Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Patterson’s comments, reported last week in a Nashville newspaper and EthicsDaily.com, were from personal e-mails with an abuse survivor who turned them over to SNAP, which last month sent a letter asking Southwestern trustees to investigate Patterson’s handling two decades ago of allegations of sexual abuse by a former protÃ©gÃ© now facing a criminal lewdness charge.
Patterson characterized SNAP as “evil-doers” lacking integrity and “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.”
In an open letter faxed and e-mailed to Patterson Thursday, three SNAP representatives asked the Southern Baptist leader to apologize for “unduly harsh and highly insulting words” about their organization.
Barbara Blaine, SNAP founder and president, said over the past 20 years SNAP leaders have “met countless times with perhaps hundreds of denominational authorities in various faith groups, have given dozens of presentations at professional conferences, and have provided testimony to scores of lawmakers.
“While not every church official likes us,” Blaine said in a press release, “none has ever before called us ‘evil’ or claimed we were as bad as child predators.'”
The letter to Patterson, signed by SNAP National Director David Clohessy; Baptist Director Christa Brown and Outreach Director Barbara Dorris, acknowledged that “people often say or write ill-advised things in haste and anger.”
“It’s a sign of wisdom, maturity and humility when people apologize for such hurtful comments,” the SNAP leaders said.
Patterson takes issue with SNAP leaders’ description of his actions involving now-disgraced pastor Darrell Gilyard as turning a “blind eye” to sexual abuse.
In a recently filed court document in a 2007 gender-discrimination lawsuit involving a former seminary professor, Patterson said the SNAP complaint “mischaracterizes events that are over two decades old” and “has nothing to do” with plaintiff Sheri Klouda or employment of any female. Patterson also objected to introduction into the case of his 1997 comment in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about women: “I think everybody should own at least one.”
“We know that you may not welcome public attention regarding your response to repeated sex abuse reports against Gilyard,” SNAP leaders said in their letter to Patterson. “We understand that you take issue with how we have characterized your actions in that situation.”
“But one short letter, signed by three of SNAP’s thousands of members, even if you deemed it unfair, surely doesn’t warrant such a severe, sweeping and hateful response, especially to a distraught woman who was sexually assaulted by her pastor and who turned to you for help,” the letter continued.
The leaders said harm caused by Patterson’s remarks is “much more extensive and severe” than hurting individuals.
“Many child sex-abuse victims are trapped in isolation, fear, shame and self-blame,” they said. “Almost all mental-health professionals find that victims begin to heal when the break their silence and reach out to others for help. When you attack the nation’s largest self-help group for clergy sex-abuse victims, especially in such radical and unfounded ways, it deters deeply wounded individuals from getting the support they so desperately need and deserve.”
“We don’t believe that is the intent of your actions,” the letter said. “But we deeply fear that is the result of your actions.”
The SNAP leaders offered to “sit down with you face-to-face in the near future to educate you about our efforts and intentions for preventing Baptist clergy sex abuse, and perhaps work together to reach out to those who were wounded by pastor Gilyard.”
They said they proposed the meeting in a “spirit of forgiveness and in hopes of collaboration” and that the offer to meet stands whether or not Patterson apologizes.
“We understand that Patterson wasn’t thrilled that we highlighted his involvement with pastor Darrell Gilyard,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s national director. “But that’s no reason to call good people ugly names.”
Patterson did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Previous related stories:
Executive Committee Still Studying Feasibility of Clergy Sex-Offender Database
SBC Seminary President Labels Clergy Sex-Abuse Victims’ Group ‘Evil-Doers’
Gilyard Pleads Not Guilty to Lewdness Charge