Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention published a 205-page list Thursday evening of hundreds of ministers and other church workers it described as being “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.
The list’s public release is one of the first definitive steps the denomination’s leadership has taken in the wake of a nearly 300-page report about its handling of alleged sexual abuse over the last 20 years.
The list’s publication on the denomination’s website was “an initial, but important, step towards addressing the scourge of sexual abuse and implementing reform in the Convention,” Rolland Slade, the chairman of the denomination’s executive committee, and Willie McLaurin, the committee’s interim president and chief executive, said in a statement. “Our prayer is that the survivors of these heinous acts find hope and healing, and that churches will utilize this list proactively to protect and care for the most vulnerable among us.”
The report released Sunday by the denomination, prepared by a third-party investigator, said that national leaders of the group suppressed claims of sexual abuse and stymied proposals for reform over two decades. Though Southern Baptists have grappled with abuse allegations for years, the report sent shock waves through its churches for its descriptions of how leaders ignored and stifled victims’ pleas for help and resisted reforms. Among the most disturbing revelations, Southern Baptist pastors and members said, was that leaders kept a secret list of reported abusers but appeared to take no action to ensure the people on the list were no longer in positions of influence in Southern Baptist settings.
Survivors of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and other institutions had urged the denomination to compile a list of known offenders to prevent abusers from quietly moving to new jobs in ministry.
Turmoil in the Southern Baptist Convention
Internal and external crises have hit the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.
- Sex Abuse Crisis: Southern Baptist leaders suppressed reports of sexual abuse and resisted proposals for reform over two decades, a third-party investigation found.
- A Secret List: The report revealed the existence of a secretly maintained list of hundreds of ministers credibly accused of sexual abuse, which the denomination’s leaders said they plan to release.
- The Fallout: Southern Baptist society had long distanced itself from the sexual abuse crisis consuming the Catholic Church. Now a reckoning has arrived.
- Hard-Right Revolt: Establishment leaders narrowly headed off an ultraconservative takeover. But the standoff portended further fractures.
- A Split Over Trump: Beth Moore, a prominent evangelical, left the denomination over its support of Donald J. Trump.
The convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, with almost 14 million members and more than 47,000 churches in all 50 states.
The list published Thursday is a version of a document maintained for more than a decade by a staff member of the convention’s executive committee, a body of 86 representatives from across the country that helps direct the convention’s activities and finances. The secret list was shared with D. August Boto, the committee’s former vice president and general counsel, the report said.
The list covers offenses going back decades. Each entry includes the name of the alleged offender’s name, the year the claim of the offense was reported, the state where it took place and a short description of the accusations against them, with links to relevant news articles. It also includes the alleged offender’s denomination; most appear to belong to the Southern Baptist Convention, but others are affiliated with other Baptist traditions.
One entry, for example, lists a youth minister at Garland Baptist Church in Texas named Derek Wayne Hutter, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of enticement of a minor and was sentenced to 264 months in federal prison. The Dallas Morning News reported that authorities said he had convinced a 13-year-old girl in his youth group to have sex with him 20 times, at the church and at Mr. Hutter’s home.
Most of the names had already been published elsewhere — including in a major investigation into abuse allegations by The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. Some of the names had appeared in publicly available court documents as part of criminal or civil suits.
The publication comes weeks before the convention’s annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., where leaders and members are expected to discuss other steps to address abuse allegations. The convention will also elect new leadership as it faces divisions over politics, culture and declining membership.
The third-party report contained multiple accounts of victims of sexual abuse and others who said they contacted the convention’s executive committee about alleged offenders and were ignored. At one point, Mr. Boto, the former vice president, referred to the work of activists in an internal email as a “satanic scheme.”
In 2007, a delegate at the denomination’s annual convention presented a motion to create a database of clergy and staff “involved in sexual harassment or abuse.” The next year, an executive committee working group rejected the notion, saying that maintaining such a list publicly would violate the denomination’s decentralized structure.
But the report released Sunday revealed that in 2007, the committee’s own general counsel, James Guenther, proposed a plan for the denomination’s website to link to such a database. “It would fit our polity and present ministries to help churches in this area of child abuse and sexual misconduct,” he wrote, recommending “immediate action.” Mr. Boto took no action, according to the report.
Mr. Boto could not be reached for comment.
The list’s publication also comes just two days after Gene Besen, the executive committee’s interim counsel, told committee members at a meeting that the committee would publish the list “as quickly as we can.”
The original ad hoc list contained about 700 names, with about 400 who were believed to be connected to the denomination. Though the list released Thursday does not represent a complete tally of Southern Baptist offenders, “promptly releasing that list is in our best interest, it’s important, it is of immediate concern to the public and to the survivor community, and we need to do it right away,” he told the committee.
Mr. Besen’s team spent several days redacting the names of survivors and sources, where appropriate, and redacting any claims they could not substantiate through news reports and other sources. He said they might restore some names if related claims are later substantiated.
For the purposes of publication, the denomination defined “credibly accused” as one who has either confessed in court or in another setting not protected by legal privacy claims, been convicted in a criminal court, had a civil judgment rendered against them, or had an accusation against them deemed credible by a third party hired by a Baptist body.
On Wednesday, the denomination announced the creation of a confidential hotline for abuse victims and others to submit allegations of abuse within the organization. The hotline will be maintained by Guidepost Solutions, the company that produced the report, and is described as “an important stopgap measure for survivors” between now and the denomination’s annual meeting.