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Lawsuit Charges Sexual Abuse of Teen by Florida Baptist Minister in 1960s

by Mark I. Pinsky, Sentinel Staff Writer
Orlando Sentinel
October 22, 2005

A Southern Baptist minister who has worked at two Central Florida churches is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a teenage church pianist in Texas nearly four decades ago.

The Rev. Thomas Gilmore, who worked as children's minister at First Baptist Church of Oviedo and had been consulting at Cornerstone Community Church in Seminole County, is accused of coercing the girl, who was 16 at the time, into sex during six months in 1968 and 1969. According to the suit, Gilmore told her the sexual acts were God's will. At that time, the age of consent in Texas was 18.

In a court filing, Gilmore, 64, denied all the charges. He did not respond to telephone messages left at his home.

In a letter to the Sentinel, Gilmore's attorney, Randall Walters of Dallas, wrote, "We sympathize with anyone who has suffered from sexual abuse." In this instance, however, "the events recounted by one person often materially differ from those recounted by another person."

According to the suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages and was filed in June in Texas, C.L. Brown was "a deeply religious young girl who was very active" at First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch, Texas, when the abuse began. Gilmore was in his late 20s, married with a child and serving as the congregation's youth and education minister.

Brown said in the suit that Gilmore had started counseling sessions with her after another minister mentioned that the teen was having family problems.

After several months, Brown told the church's music minister, the Rev. James Moore, what had happened, according to court documents. In an affidavit filed last month, Moore wrote: "I approached Tommy Gilmore and told him that if he did not leave, I would take the matter to the church." Gilmore left the church within a few weeks, the affidavit said.

After the affidavit was filed, Moore was dropped from a separate suit filed by Brown against him and the church over the alleged abuse.

Brown, who is now an attorney, said she was prompted to sue when her own daughter turned 16, more than a year ago.

"It was a gradual process," she said in an interview. Imagining her daughter being in a vulnerable situation caused her to recall the experience she described in her court filing, she said.

Ministers at the two Central Florida churches where Gilmore has been employed said there were no complaints about him.

"I'm quite surprised by the whole situation," said Dwayne Mercer, pastor of First Baptist Church of Oviedo. He said Gilmore left the congregation more than two years ago by mutual agreement and was not dismissed, after serving about two years.

At Cornerstone Community Church of Central Florida, a Baptist congregation where Gilmore has been working as a consultant with adult members, the Rev. Paul Cornwell had the same experience.

"He was always the highest of moral character," Cornwell said. Cornwell said that when he asked Gilmore about the suit last month, Gilmore said he could not discuss it based on advice from his attorney and offered to resign. Cornwell accepted the resignation.

Mark I. Pinsky can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5589.

Brown ended her lawsuit in February 2006. The First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch issued a formal apology to Brown for the "very serious sexual abuse" that was inflicted on her by its prior minister Tommy Gilmore when she was a girl in the church youth group. The church expressly confirmed that its music minister had knowledge of the fact that Gilmore had sexual contact with Brown as a minor. Despite that long-standing knowledge, the church's response to Brown's report of abuse was "inadequate and less than compassionate," according to its own admission, and Gilmore remained in ministry in Florida until Brown finally resorted to filing a lawsuit.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests