After the storm that fell on the Catholic Church, the main Protestant Church of the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, has been shaken by a great sex scandal revealed by journalists that involves nearly 400 pastors, volunteers and educators in two decades .
The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News they investigated for six months this network of 47,000 churches and evangelical institutions that has more than fifteen million members, especially in the southern United States. His revelations in a series of articles published since Sunday are overwhelming.
Since 1998, at least 380 members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) clergy, who do not vote for celibacy, have been accused of sexually abusing more than 700 people, mostly minors, the journalists concluded.
According to the review of thousands of court documents, 220 pastors and volunteers have been convicted of acts ranging from possession of pedophilia images to rape, and dozens of cases are still in court. There are probably other cases, SBC representatives acknowledged when calling on victims to appear before the courts.
"It's time to mourn and repent, the changes are coming," the convention president, J.D., said on Twitter. Greear The SBC Executive Committee will take advantage of a meeting scheduled for next week to "review a study commissioned last summer on the subject," one of its spokesmen, Roger Oldham, told AFP on Tuesday.
There is no excuse
As the Boston Globe researchers did in 2002 when they uncovered a major scandal in the Catholic clergy – which was brought to the big screen with 'Spotlight' – both newspapers implicate the heads of this Evangelical Church also known as the Baptist Convention of the Catholic Church. South, accused of not having acted to tackle the problem.
According to them, in 2007 the victims proposed a list of measures to prevent further abuses, such as the creation of a registry of the pastors involved. But the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention opposed it arguing the independence of the different churches that make up its doctrine, linked between them only by a "cooperation" agreement and very cautious regarding their autonomy.
"Each congregation runs its own affairs, there is no bishop, no one oversees," Russell Moore, an official with the SBC, told AFP on Tuesday. "But people can not use the autonomy of the churches as an excuse," he acknowledged. .
At least 35 pastors, volunteers and educators have been able to move from one church to another despite their background, according to the research of the newspapers. For example, one Illinois pastor, Leslie Mason, sentenced in 2003 for two sexual assaults, began preaching away from that place after serving his prison sentence, the journalists say.
Another pastor, Doug Myers, went to work in Florida after being suspected of inappropriate behavior toward the children of Alabama in the early 2000s. He then assaulted an eleven-year-old boy and was eventually convicted in 2007.
Sometimes the churches knew their past, but they had a "horrible view of forgiveness" that meant "giving these predators a second chance"said Moore. At other times, they had no idea of his background. The Southern Baptist Convention offers churches to check criminal records of those wishing to enter their service.
Since 2009, 320,000 verifications have been carried out, but they only reviewed the sentences and not the suspicions, the two newspapers explain. His investigation was well received by the association of victims of pedophile priests SNAP, who urged the judicial system to take charge of the issue to ensure that the accused of aggression "are out of any position that allows them to harm others."
Following the publication in the summer of 2018 of a report on abuses committed in the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania, federal justice and that of some 20 states began investigations that began by searching the archives of the diocese.
On Tuesday no prosecutor had spoken yet about possible investigations within the Southern Baptist Convention.