For immediate release: Thursday, June 5, 2014
For more info: David Clohessy, 314-566-9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com
Clergy abuse victims ask to speak at Baptist annual meeting
They also want independent review of clergy abuses & cover-ups
And group again urges SBC’s top official to apologize for insulting them
A victims group is asking the head of the Southern Baptist Convention for a chance to speak at the annual denominational meeting this month in Baltimore. They also want the SBC to hire an outside organization to study abuse in Baptist churches and an apology from the top SBC official.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Dr. Frank Page, wanting a chance to speak about preventing clergy sex crimes before thousands of Baptists who will gather in Baltimore on June 10-11.
SNAP has “25 years of experience working with clergy abuse survivors,” the group says, and so the organization “can help the SBC in shaping practices and policies that help prevent abuse and cover ups and foster more appropriate responses to abuse allegations.”
SNAP also wants the SBC Executive Committee to hire and consult with another organization, GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), for an independent expert review of the scandal involving a convicted child sex offender and Baptist employee John Langworthy of Mississippi and Texas.
"The way Baptist officials are responding and have historically responded to clergy sex abuse is and has been unproductive and does not make kids safer against clergy-predators," said Amy Smith of Dallas, SNAP leader. “We hope that if they would just allow for an independent review of even one of the many reported cases of a cover-up, it might educate them on the dynamics of this problem and prod them and others to stronger action.”
SNAP is also asking that an abuse database study, which was voted for at the SBC’s 2007 annual meeting but never actually funded, be finally conducted.
Finally, SNAP is also asking Page to publicly apologize for a 2007 column he wrote in which he described their support group as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons.”
"Publicly attacking brave clergy sex abuse survivors hurts already wounded men and women who were traumatized as kids," said David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP. “And it also hurts vulnerable kids, by decreasing the chances that scared or pessimistic adults who might report known or suspected child sex crimes from actually doing so.”
“Publicly attacking the integrity of police and prosecutors makes it harder for law enforcement officials to catch criminals,” said Smith. “And publicly castigating advocates for kids makes it harder for them to expose molesters. Surely, Page realizes this.”
Regarding the Langworthy case, Smith said “It's clear that several high-ranking Baptist officials could and should have stopped and exposed Langworthy sooner. They should be identified and punished him. That will help deter reckless, callous and deceitful behavior in the future.”
SNAP made some of these requests in April.
Page replied almost five weeks later, rejecting all of them without explanation.
Below is the letter from SNAP, sent today by email and fax, to Dr. Page (email@example.com
(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 18,000 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)
Dear Dr. Page:
As the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2014 annual meeting approaches, we are writing to you with four requests:
1. We ask that a representative of SNAP be allowed to speak at the SBC annual meeting June 10-11 in Baltimore, or alternatively, to at least speak to the Executive Committee at its session immediately preceding the annual meeting. As president of the SBC’s Executive Committee, you have the power and influence to grant this request and thereby to promote greater awareness of clergy abuse survivors within your faith group. SNAP has over 25 years of experience in working with clergy abuse survivors, and so we can help the Southern Baptist Convention in shaping practices and policies that foster more appropriate responses to abuse allegations and in learning to treat abuse survivors with compassion and care.
2. Seven years ago, on April 19, 2007, you wrote a column, published in the Florida Baptist Witness, in which you demonstrated the antithesis of compassion and care for clergy sex abuse survivors, and we are again asking for an apology. In discussing the fact that people were speaking in the media about clergy sex abuse, you described the support groups for abuse survivors as being “nothing more than opportunistic persons.” As was noted in EthicsDaily at the time, the only group that was publicly speaking out about Baptist clergy sex abuse was SNAP, an organization whose members are, for the most part, people who were molested and raped by clergy when they were children. We hope that, in these subsequent years, you have been able to reflect on your words and to realize the extraordinary harm in what you wrote. Not only were your words extremely hurtful to child rape victims, but they were also hurtful for fostering a climate of hostility toward clergy abuse survivors within your faith group. Your words set a terrible example.
3. Since you are now president of the SBC Executive Committee, we ask you to fund and conduct the study that Southern Baptist messengers directed the Executive Committee to make by a near unanimous vote at the SBC annual meeting in 2007. That study was supposed to consider the development of a denominational database to help churches identify clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse or who have personally confessed to conduct constituting abuse. Yet, though the Executive Committee produced a document rejecting the idea of a denominational database, that document did not carry the usual indicia of a legitimate study. Instead, it appeared to be little more than the write-up of a predetermined conclusion. Indeed, SBC spokesperson Roger Sing Oldham specifically told the Nashville Scene at the time that there had been no budget allocated for such a study. And was there any data for the study? What outside experts were consulted and what testimony or opinions did they offer? Where is there any transcript of any hearings conducted? Was there even an attempt to gauge the extent of the problem? And what about any charts to provide comparison with the processes of other major faith groups for handling clergy abuse claims? In compliance with that near unanimous vote of the SBC’s delegates, we ask that you finally conduct a legitimate study and that you do so in a manner that is transparent for all to see. In this networked day and age, it is simply incredible to imagine that this powerful denomination cannot find a way to cooperatively use its denominational structures so as to keep accessible records on church-hopping clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
4. We ask that the SBC’s Executive Committee hire Boz Tchividjian’s organization GRACE to conduct an independent review of all the circumstances surrounding the Prestonwood/Morrison Heights scandal. This scandal in which an accused minister was allowed to simply move on to another church is one that has received wide publicity and that affects two of the SBC’s most prominent churches. Even if the SBC Executive Committee lacks power to actually do anything to hold accountable those officials who kept quiet about or covered up for minister John Langworthy’s abuse, thereby leaving other kids at risk, surely the Executive Committee can at least assure that an outside expert reviews the entirety of the matter with transparency so that people can have a full reporting of what happened and who was involved. In effect, we are asking the Executive Committee to commit to a process of complete truth-telling, with the help of GRACE, and with respect to this one case. We hope that such a process may bring some small measure of healing to the many who have been affected by this scandal, and we also hope that, by engaging such a process with even one case, the SBC Executive Committee may arrive at a better understanding of the dynamics of clergy sex abuse and cover-ups, and may appreciate the need for much stronger action within this faith group.