Three months after they blew the lid off the sex-abuse scandal in the Southern Baptist Church, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News newspapers have now published a series of stories that reveals the abuse was part of the church’s global outreach.
Reporters for the Chronicle and Express-News found that Southern Baptist missionaries were doing more than spreading the word of God around the world.
The investigation spotlighted the activities of five missionaries who preyed on 24 innocent, easily impressionable victims in countries such as Taiwan, Malawi and Indonesia.
But here’s the revelation that makes this abuse scandal just as unforgivable as the one that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church for more than a decade: Higher-ups knew about the abuses around the world and did nothing.
The International Mission Board, the world’s largest sponsor of Protestant missions, repeatedly kept reports of sexual abuse quiet, did not alert the public and often delayed or took no action against accused missionaries.
The newspapers noted that the IMB has a zero-tolerance policy of child abuse and urges victims and others to report such criminal and sinful behavior.
The board told the Chronicle and Express-News that it is committed to a “rigorous examination” of its policies and procedures.
The Southern Baptist Church is still reeling from the newspapers’ series in February that revealed hundreds of cases of sexual abuse by pastors and officials.
The reporters’ investigations found at least 700 people were sexually assaulted by 380 authority figures over the last two decades. The crimes were covered up or ignored, victims were shamed, and the offenders were enabled or transferred.
As an editorial in the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise noted:
“Many of the victims were children or adolescents, too young to fully comprehend what was happening to them, virtually devoid of any way to defend themselves.
“Sadly, this is why many abusers seek victims like this, because they know their chances of being found out are small. Experts also say that many victims of sexual assault don’t report what happened to them out of fear or guilt, struggling to deal quietly with their terrible memories.”
Men of God
While pedophilia is a crime that demands the harshest punishment, it is especially dastardly when the perpetrators are supposedly men of God.
The reason sexual abuse has been a secret in plain sight in the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches – it’s just a matter of time before victims of other religious denominations step forward – is that the abusers are given the benefit of the doubt.
If it weren’t for the exhaustive reporting by the Boston Globe, the extent of the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church would never have been known.
The Globe’s stories not only revealed the shockingly large number of priests who preyed on the innocent, but also highlighted the extent of the cover-up by the hierarchy of the church.
Priests who were known to bishops for their predatory behavior were either allowed to remain in their parishes or were transferred to other parishes where they continued to commit crimes.
The most egregious aspect of this global scandal was that The Vatican chose to do nothing about the cover-up until unyielding public pressure forced the pope’s hand.
Unfortunately, the punishment is too little and comes too late.
The sins of commission and omission have shaken the foundation of the 1.3 billion-member Catholic Church. There has been a decline in church attendance since the revelations of the crimes by priests and the cover-up by the hierarchy.
It’s not enough to acknowledge the crimes committed by members of the clergy. There must be an unequivocal commitment to dealing harshly with pastors who used their positions as the arbiters of morality to indulge in immoral behavior.
The Southern Baptist Church leaders have promised to take forceful action during their national meetings Tuesday and Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala.
As the Houston Chronicle said in an editorial, “If they don’t then the Baptists, like the Catholics before them, will emerge with reduced moral authority. “
Delegates from the more than 47,000 member churches must not squander the chance to act on behalf of the victims of sexual abuse.
The world will be watching.