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Group asks Baptists to form board to track clergy linked to abuse

SNAP sends second letter to convention

By ANITA WADHWANI - The Tennessean
September 27, 2006

A group hoping to stem sexual abuse by clergy members has asked the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention to create an independent review board to evaluate abuse allegations within the denomination and establish a "zero tolerance policy" for abusers.

Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and other clergy, or SNAP — founded by those who say they were sexually abused by Catholic clergy — said no one has any way of knowing how prevalent sexual abuse of minors is by Southern Baptist clergy. No one is tracking it or preventing those accused of abuse from moving from one church to another, the group said.

Victim Christa Brown, 53, won an apology in January from a Texas Baptist church after she said she was sexually abused at age 16 by a youth minister more than 30 years ago and confided it at the time to another church leader. The youth minister was asked to leave the church, but no action was taken against him. Brown also filed a lawsuit that was settled out of court.

"What I went through as a kid was a living, breathing nightmare," said Brown, who now lives in Austin, Texas. "As a mom, what terrifies me the most is that there are 100,000 Southern Baptist ministers in this country and there are predators among them. And there is no one in this denomination that is taking action to rid this 16 million-member denomination of these predators."

She stood outside the Southern Baptist Convention headquarters yesterday and said she wanted the leaders of the nation's largest Protestant denomination to take steps to track abuse claims and prevent offenders from moving on to other churches after being credibly accused of abuse — as she said her abuser did.

Responding last month to a letter from the group, Southern Baptist President Frank Page said: "your letter was a very disturbing and frightening example of what happens when those in spiritual places of authority misuse that authority and power in a most egregious fashion."

However, he noted that the structure of the Southern Baptist Convention gives individual churches full autonomy, giving the denomination no authority over individual church entities.

In response, SNAP delivered another letter to Page and other denominational leaders yesterday, asking that the denomination establish an independent review board to receive and investigate reports of clergy abuse. It also wants the denomination to establish a toll-free hot line for victims to call, educate churches about sexual abuse and institute a "zero tolerance" policy for Southern Baptist churches that hire a deacon or minister for whom there has been a "credible report of having sexually abused a minor."

The letter asks the convention to ratify the recommendations at the denomination's national meeting next year.

Convention officials said they have in the past and will continue to encourage churches to be vigilant in performing background checks before hiring, provide support when victimizations occur and fully support criminal prosecution when warranted.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests