A former Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary student was sentenced Friday to 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing several teenage boys he mentored while a volunteer youth worker at a Southern Baptist church in North Carolina
Meanwhile, a Southern Baptist church in suburban Chicago made news after it became public that an interim preacher in its pulpit for three years was a convicted child molester.
In North Carolina a tearful Brian “Doug” Goodrich Jr., 26, apologized to members of victims’ families in a video clip aired on Raleigh TV station WRAL for using his position of trust to molest eight young boys who were part of a Bible study at the 2,700-member Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.
“You guys put trust and faith in me, and I betrayed that,” Goodrich said. “I apologize for the deceit, for the lies and betrayal that led the victims to think the offending was OK and for putting them in the position of being victims.”
Police arrested Goodrich in June 2006 after finding him in a parked car with a 13-year-old boy from the church where he worked as an intern. The arrest prompted an investigation bringing allegations involving seven additional victims, all between the ages of 13 and 15.
The prosecutor in the case said the abuse began with games of truth-or-dare and escalated into increasingly inappropriate sexual behavior. Letters read in court called Goodrich a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Under the guise of spiritual leadership, he manipulated them for his own selfish purposes,” said one letter. “Our son is an innocent victim.”
Goodrich’s lawyer said his client was remorseful and called the sentence excessive. Defense attorney Joseph Cheshire said his client enters prison as “a good person–flawed, but good.”
While in prison Goodrich will undergo counseling for sex offenders and register as a sex offender in the state’s registry.
Southeastern Seminary suspended Goodrich after his first arrest pending outcome of his case. Seminary spokesman Jason Hall said Monday that Goodrich has been expelled and is no longer a student at the seminary.
Seminary President Daniel Akin issued a statement saying: “The thoughts of Southeastern’s faculty, staff and administration continue to be with the victims of these tragic incidents and their families, and we pray for the peace of Christ to comfort and encourage them now and in the future. We also remain committed to training men and women who will practice the highest level of integrity both in their Gospel ministries and in their personal walks with Christ.”
In March EthicsDaily.com reported that two students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., were registered sex offenders. Seminary officials said privacy laws prohibited them from commenting about the two students, who were identified in an ABC News “20/20” report on preacher predators, but they are no longer enrolled at the seminary.
Under pressure from a victims’ advocacy group, the Southern Baptist Convention has agreed to consider a database of known or credibly accused sex offenders. But SBC leaders have also said they believe the denomination cannot do much to address the problem, because of Baptists’ system of autonomy of the local church. The denomination encourages churches to do background checks before hiring ministers and offers resources on protecting kids.
A staff member at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh told WRAL last year the church did a criminal check on Goodrich, like they do with all volunteers, but since he didn’t have a previous conviction his record was clean. Church leaders and parents said they saw no red flags.
A former neighbor said he saw Goodrich entering his town home with young boys, but he never suspected anything was amiss.
Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said background checks are necessary, but alone they aren’t enough, because many sexual predators are never convicted of a crime.
Also, Brown said, lacking strong leadership from the denomination, individual churches can be deceived into making wrong decisions.
The Chicago Sun-Times on Monday reported a story about First Baptist Church of Romeoville, Ill., which allowed a convicted child-sex offender to preach from its pulpit for three years, despite knowing about his past.
“In our church, we believe in forgiveness,” the newspaper quoted one of the church’s deacons who hired 42-year-old Jeff Hannah to step into the pulpit after the former pastor moved on amid controversy over the fact that he had been divorced and remarried.
Hannah was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1996 for having sexual relations with four girls ages 15 to 17 while married and a youth minister at another church. Steve Farish, senior pastor of Crossroads Church in Libertyville, Ill., reportedly said he considered Hannah so dangerous that he warned the Romeoville church and a regional Southern Baptist official.
Hannah explained his past to a Sun-Times reporter by saying his marriage had been in trouble and that he had “urges.”
“I honestly believe that had I been a college pastor, I’d have slept with college girls,” he was quoted as saying. “But I was a youth pastor. It was less about age and more about who I spent all my time with.”
After talking to the newspaper, Hannah reportedly resigned as a member of the church, which he joined after being paroled in 2001 and where his new wife was a member, commenting, “I just want to live my life.”
Brown said the Romeoville matter came to light because a Southern Baptist minister contacted SNAP.
“We applaud him for doing that, but this illustrates the denomination’s own lack of resources for effectively dealing with clergy sex abuse,” she told EthicsDaily.com. “If even a Southern Baptist minister has trouble figuring out how to warn people about a convicted clergy perpetrator and to get him out of the pulpit, how does anyone imagine that a clergy abuse victim, who is typically an outsider, is going to be able to warn people about a clergy perpetrator who, in the more usual scenario, has no prior conviction?”
Brown said there is no excuse for placing a convicted child molester in a pulpit for three years knowing that other kids in the community and church were at risk.
“The autonomy of Baptist churches cannot excuse this,” she said. “Autonomy does not give Baptist leaders any sort of biblical right to turn a blind eye. Protecting the young is a sacred obligation, and there are no excuses.”
Today the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a second convicted sex offender was invited to First Baptist Church in Romeoville, when Hannah invited his neighbor, Bryan Buckley, to lead special music at a Sept. 9 celebration service.
Buckley, 38, was convicted in 1997 of four counts of criminally assaulting a 14-year-old girl at a community church in St. Charles, Ill. The paper said Hannah and Buckley apparently met in prison.
Charles Hamby, the church’s former pastor, told the Sun-Times he saw nothing wrong with putting two child molesters in worship roles. “We’re a church that believes in grace and redemption,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.