A Bellevue Baptist Church committee investigating a longtime staff member accused of molestation reported “significant progress” but provided few details in an interim report.

In a Jan. 7 report posted on the Web site of the suburban Memphis mega-church, the committee said it planned to present a final report to the church’s personnel committee Jan. 20. That report should include a recommendation about whether to fire Paul Williams, Bellevue’s minister of prayer and special projects, who was put on administrative leave after Pastor Steve Gaines announced Dec. 17 that Williams had confessed a “moral failure” to him that occurred 17 years ago.

Gaines did not discuss the nature of the transgression, but a Web site critical of his leadership said it involved molestation of Williams’ own son. Critics seized on Gaines’ failure to report the incident for six months, claiming he mistakenly believed the matter had been resolved within the family.

In addition to determining Williams’ employment status, the investigating committee is working to “determine if there are any consequences of his actions on the health and safety of our members or anyone seeking ministerial assistance from the church; identify individuals, if any, who may have been harmed and need help” and offer assistance if needed.

The group also is reviewing policies and processes to ensure the health and safety of kids. One of those most upset by the revelation was a church member who says she was victimized by a family member as a child and forced to give intimate details in an interview with Williams before being allowed to work in the church nursery, without knowing he was an accused molester. A newspaper columnist told her story in Sunday’s Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

Bellevue’s personnel committee said Jan. 12 it was in contact with the Department of Child Services through counsel and is “committed to cooperating fully with that agency.”

That was after a blog published comments by an advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse claiming an investigator told him church officials weren’t cooperating with either the DCS or the District Attorney. The site also posted a letter confirming a DCS investigation is underway.

Kevin Rardin, chief prosecutor of child abuse for the DA’s office, told Commercial-Appeal columnist Wendi Thomas the law requires all adults to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the authorities. He said the law does not make exceptions for clergy.

“In the late 1980s, if an adult raped a child under the age of 13, the applicable offense was called aggravated rape, and aggravated rape has no statute of limitations,” Rardin said.

Another reason for reporting suspected child abuse, Rardin continued, is that even if the victim of a particular incident is an adult, there might be other victims.

Regardless of what the law says, Rardin wondered why anyone would choose not to report suspected child sex abuse. “I don’t really think we need the law to tell us what our duty is,” he said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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