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Two Texas newspapers have revealed 380 sexual misconduct allegations across America's Southern Baptist church, 220 of which are confirmed convictions or guilty pleas.
The Houston Chronicle says more of them lived and worked in Texas than any other state and "left behind more than 700 victims, many of them shunned by their churches, left to themselves to rebuild their lives."
They say their database includes youth pastors, ministers, Sunday school teachers, deacons and volunteers.
The Southern Baptist Convention network is the biggest Protestant group in America with over 15 million members and an important part of their ecclesiology is their autonomy and opposition to a hierarchical structure.
Their independence has advantages but has also resulted in less accountability, with no such thing as a central database of preachers or convictions.
In 2007, victims of sexual abuse in the church asked to have a register of convicted sex offenders from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). No list was created and they asked again in 2018. The Houston Chronicle then began to compile a collection of all the abuse allegations from ten years before the victims asked for a list to be made and the ten years after.
They then verified the allegations with court databases, prison records and sex offender registers across 20 states.
The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express have now verified that 220 people of the 380 have been convicted of sex crimes or received deferred prosecutions in plea deals.
The newspapers have also found that "at least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behaviour were still able to find jobs at churches during the past two decades", with many returning to preaching, allegations failed to be passed on to police and several prominent leaders being accused of concealing complaints.
Pastor J.D. Greear, the Southern Baptist Convention's president has called sexual abuse by church leaders and volunteers "pure evil" and apologised to victims, vowing to begin making reforms.
He says on his website: "what this article describes is heinous. There can simply be no ambiguity about the church’s responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable.
"If you have been victimized by a church leader (or anyone else for that matter) and the Houston Chronicle story rekindled fear and doubt about how you could receive care, please hear us: we are profoundly sorry. It is an unjust tragedy that you experienced abuse in the past. And it is unjust and tragic that you feel fear in the present."
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