For immediate release: Monday, April 28, 2014
Survivors urge outside review of Baptist church
State lawmaker implicated in cover-up
Convicted music minister may have molested more kids, group fears
"Awareness training" not enough, group says
Transparency and action keep kids safe, they urge
On the eve of a church "sexual abuse awareness training,” a clergy abuse survivors’ group is asking church officials to take a hard look at their own failures in connection with a clergy sex abuse and cover-up scandal.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org), are writing to Morrison Heights Baptist Church officials about the church’s handling of abuse allegations against former music minister John Langworthy. In 2013, Langworthy pled guilty to five felony counts of child sexual abuse. He is now a registered sex offender. http://www.abpnews.com/ministry/people/item/8153-former-minister-pleads-guilty-to-abuse#.U1vfNa1dXhU
Morrison Heights church officials—including attorney and Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn—have been blasted for keeping allegations against Langworthy secret and hiding behind the "priest-penitent privilege." http://www.abpnews.com/archives/item/6972-church-leader-questioned-about-handling-of-sexual-abuse-allegation#.U1vfpq1dXhU
While SNAP would like to support any education program that builds awareness for sexual abuse, they believe such programs are worthless when men and women who may have covered-up abuse are not investigated or punished. http://www.wjtv.com/story/21261586/what-philip-gunn-did-in-child-sex-case
"Morrison Heights has failed its children for decades," the letter says. "We are asking you to honestly acknowledge that failure and to do something about it. Until then, we cannot be assured that the crimes of the past are not continuing and thriving within your church's walls."
“If kids are to be protected, then no one’s conduct should be above scrutiny,” said SNAP’s executive director David Clohessy, “and that includes even prominent people such as senior pastor Greg Belser and church elder and Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.”
The safety of children at Morrison Heights and the healing of survivors are the group's primary concerns.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Amy Smith, a SNAP leader in Dallas who was instrumental in bringing to light the child sex crimes of former Morrison Heights minister John Langworthy, who is now a registered sex offender. “Morrison Heights cannot whitewash its abysmal conduct in the Langworthy scandal by simply hosting an awareness training.”
In its letter, SNAP asks Morrison Heights officials to allow an outside investigatory organization such as G.R.A.C.E. to fully review church officials’ conduct in connection with the Langworthy matter, including review of the church’s internal records.
The letter from SNAP, sent today by fax and email, is attached below.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 25 years and have more than 15,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
PO Box 6416
Chicago, IL 60680-6416
Dear Elders and Leaders of Morrison Heights Baptist Church:
We are members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPNetwork.org), the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims and victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings. We are writing you today because of your upcoming training and what we fear is you lack of transparency and action in the case of John Langworthy and the men and women who covered up his crimes.
Before you engage in any training, we urge you to take a hard look at your own church’s failures in connection with a clergy sex abuse scandal.
While we applaud efforts to raise awareness about child sex abuse, we also know from experience that awareness programs are never enough. Talk about proactive prevention is nice, but such talk rings hollow unless it is combined with responsible action, transparency and accountability.
We know how your church leaders failed when accusations first arose against former music minister and convicted child sex offender John Langworthy. But there are still many unanswered questions about continued secrecy, mishandling of abuse reports, your failure protect kids, and your refusal to turn over important evidence to prosecutors.
This is why we urge you, in the spirit of accountability, healing and child safety, to immediately begin an outside review of your policies and procedures in the Langworthy case and all cases of child sexual abuse at Morrison Heights. We suggest G.R.A.C.E. http://netgrace.org/about-us/e, a Christian organization dedicated to accountability in cases of sexual abuse. We ask you to cooperate in such a review with full transparency and to ultimately hold accountable those church leaders – including any ministers, elders or deacons – who had any role in the Langworthy debacle. Even lawmakers like Philiip Gunn are accountable to children and the law. He, like all members of your congregation, should openly welcome this review.
Morrison Heights has failed its children for decades. We are asking you to honestly acknowledge that failure and to do something about it. Until then, we cannot be assured that the crimes of the past are not continuing and thriving within your church's walls.
Amy Smith, SNAP leader Texas, 281-748-4050, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Clohessy, Executive Director, SNAP, 314-566-9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Mark Belenchia, SNAP Mississippi leader, email@example.com, 601-953-2535