Victims’ advocates of clergy sex abuse cut little slack for leaders of Bellevue Baptist Church, who said mistakes were made in failing to disclose a former long-time minister’s admission that he molested his son 17 years ago.
“I accept full responsibility for how this was handled and could have been handled better,” Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis mega-church, said Sunday night. “I think we’ll all admit these were uncharted waters.”
Gaines was commenting on a report by an investigating team’s report finding that he and other staff members mishandled an admission six months ago by Paul Williams, minister of prayer and special projects, of sexual abuse of a family member.
Williams, a staff member for 34 years, was dismissed without severance, after initially being placed on administrative leave with pay. Gaines at first agreed to keep Williams’ confession confidential, until learning in December Williams’ son did not consider the matter resolved.
David Brown, a victims’ advocate representing Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), disputed Gaines’ “uncharted waters” claim.
“These are not uncharted waters,” Brown told Memphis TV station WMC-TV. “These have been there for a long time. Sticking your head in the sand and not dealing with it forthrightly, that’s uncharted.”
Brown, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, criticized a month-long internal church investigation as largely “pointing fingers and making excuses.”
Christa Brown, coordinator of SNAP-Baptist and founder of Voice to Stop Baptist Predators, agreed with one part of the committee’s report–that the staff’s practice keeping sensitive matters secret to protect the church from embarrassment was “not only found in Bellevue Baptist church but also is prevalent across churches in general.”
“This is true,” she said. “What happened at Bellevue has happened at churches all across the country–and most have greatly fewer resources for dealing with it. It’s why national SBC leadership MUST step up to the plate and provide congregations with the resources they need to appropriately deal with clergy abuse and to better protect kids.”
Brown, who says she was sexually abused decades ago by a minister at the Southern Baptist church she attended as a teenager, has asked leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to develop a denomination-wide strategy for stopping sexual predators from infiltrating Southern Baptist churches, similar to reforms by the Roman Catholic Church since the scandal involving cover-up of pedophile priests
SBC President Frank Page, Executive Committee head Morris Chapman and Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission have not responded to a SNAP letter delivered four months ago.
Brown also commended a committee finding that events leading to the Paul Williams issue “vividly brought to light the need for change.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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