Key takeaways from the bombshell sex abuse report by Southern Baptists

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Southern Baptist leaders for decades both ignored and covered up sex abuse allegations while claiming to have little power to address them, a shocking third-party investigation released Sunday found.

The nearly 300-page report included confidential emails and memos between longtime lawyers for the 13-million member denomination and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention’s administrative arm. The product of an eight-month probe requested by Southern Baptists at their annual meeting in Nashville in 2021, it includes several key takeaways.

Newly leaked letter details allegations that Southern Baptist leaders mishandled sex abuse claims

1. Top leaders repeatedly tried to bury sex abuse claims and lied about what could do

The report describes how key Southern Baptist leaders engaged in a pattern of ignoring, stonewalling and even “vilifying” sex abuse survivors. The report details multiple instances when Southern Baptist leaders shot down requests by survivors and other concerned members to maintain a database of abusers. Publicly, the leaders said they couldn’t because of “church polity,” or the denomination’s decentralized structure. But the report found that their attorneys had advised them that they could keep such a list and that the leaders did so in secret.

The most recent list of sex abusers prepared by a staff member contained the names of 703 alleged abusers, with 409 believed to be SBC affiliated at some point, according to the report. Guidepost, the firm that conducted the investigation, found that nine people who were accused are still in ministry, two of whom are still associated with an SBC church. Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, the report said, “there is no indication leaders took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.”

Debbie Vasquez, whose story of sexual abuse and rape by her pastor when she was a minor is included in the report, said she couldn’t sleep Sunday night after the report came out.

“To some people, this is an eye-opener. Survivors knew,” said Vasquez. “We’ve been at it for over a decade. We already knew they were covering this up. I have yet to come across a leader who was willing to do something about it.” She said her abuser is still a pastor at a church that is no longer affiliated with the SBC.

Sing Oldham, a former spokesman for the Executive Committee, which is the administrative arm the report focused on, said in an interview that he had set up a Google alert for “Baptist” and “arrested” and would forward news reports to Southern Baptist Executive Committee leader August Boto about anyone who might be connected to the SBC. But Oldham said in an interview he was not aware anyone was aggregating such reports and rejected the idea that he was involved in creating a secret database.

“I do wish that we as a convention and as an executive committee had been more open to hear [survivors’] concerns and to be more responsive to what they have to say,” Oldham said. “It was a whole new field of what are the legalities that we have to consider? What do…

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