A former Southern Baptist pastor charged with molesting a youth in his church may face additional charges, according to media reports in Memphis, Tenn.
The Commercial Appeal reported last week that detectives are investigating possible additional sex charges against 46-year-old Steven Haney, former pastor of Walnut Grove Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. Police charged Haney with sexual battery by an authority figure July 12 after a now 21-year-old man accused Haney of abusing him over a five-year span beginning when he was 15.
A former member of the church told a Memphis television station she wasn’t surprised by her one-time pastor’s arrest. “I thought, ‘Thank God,'” Bea Wilkins told WMC-TV Channel 5.
Once an active member at Walnut Grove, Wilkins said she was one of about 30 families that left the church after similar accusations involving another teenager surfaced in the 1990s.
Wilkins said she believed the story because she didn’t think the family would let it get out unless it was true. There was an investigation, and Haney wasn’t charged, but Wilkins said she never forgot about it.
“I prayed that God would do something to this man before I died,” Wilkins said. “Well, he did.”
A spokesman for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department told Channel 5 that detectives were interviewing “as many as 10 people who say they’ve had dealings with Mr. Haney in years past.”
Wilkins said she knows some of the people who are talking to police, and they are “people who can be believed.”
Haney’s arrest is the latest in a series of publicized sex abuse scandals involving Southern Baptist clergy. The attention, including a report this spring on ABC’s “20/20” television show and numerous stories by EthicsDaily.com, helped prompt a motion at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention asking the SBC Executive Committee to study the feasibility of creating a database of clergy who have been credibly accused of, confessed to or been convicted of sexual abuse or harassment.
A recent lawsuit named the Florida Baptist Convention as a defendant, saying the group should have better screened and supervised a minister brought into the state to plant Southern Baptist churches, who turned out to be a sexual predator and is now in prison.
While sometimes viewed as a problem affecting primarily the Catholic Church, a recent Associated Press story said three large insurance companies receive about 260 reports a year of young people under 18 being sexually abused by Protestant clergy.
Haney, who has made an initial court appearance and is out on $25,000 bond following his July 12 arrest, is due back in court today for a report. His alleged victim claims Haney approached him when he was 15 years old, became his mentor and lured him into sexual activity.
Haney’s arrest ticket said the minister forced the boy to take an “obedience test,” which required him to perform various sex acts with the preacher in the pastor’s study at the church, Haney’s home and other locations around Memphis. Haney’s accuser said the abuse started in September 2001 and ended last December.
If convicted of the pending sexual battery charge, Haney could be sentenced to between three and 15 years in prison. His lawyer told Channel 5 in Memphis he would deal with any other charges against Haney when and if they are filed.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.