A lawsuit filed Tuesday claims a Southern Baptist church in Amarillo, Texas, was warned that a Sunday school teacher and paid childcare worker was a pedophile, and yet did nothing to keep kids safe.
Parents identified in the lawsuit as Mr. and Mrs. John Doe say Patrick Farmer molested and photographed their two young daughters numerous times before the children finally confided in them. The parents said they went to the church and then to the police.
Now 40, Farmer received six years probation in August 2006 after pleading guilty to four counts of sexual indecency with a child. His profile on the Texas Department of Public Safety Sex offender registry describes his victims as females ages 7 and 9.
The parents say numerous parents, teachers and others had complained to church leaders that Farmer had engaged in inappropriate sexual touching of children on the church premises. On at least one occasion, the lawsuit claims, parents who complained about Farmer were asked to leave the church.
But the parents said they knew none of this when they began attending the 4,400-member congregation in 2000, enrolling their daughters in Farmer’s Sunday school class and other children’s activities.
Even after the parents reported their concerns to church leaders, the lawsuit says, the church failed to prevent Farmer from working with children.
Between the time they reported Farmer’s behavior to the church and his indictment by a grand jury in July 2005, the parents claim Farmer abused a third victim. The indictment said Farmer’s four offenses occurred Jan. 15, 2001; Oct. 1, 2002; and June 20, 2004.
Farmer was a third-grade teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in 2000 when he applied for a job at Paramount Baptist Church that gave him even more access to children. Farmer was a teacher only one year for the Canyon Independent School District, but school officials told an Amarillo TV station they couldn’t comment on why he no longer worked for them.
According to the lawsuit, a church employee asked the school district for a recommendation on whether or not to hire Farmer, and the school district recommended against employing him a position involving children.
The church ignored the warning from the school district, the lawsuit alleges, just as it ignored previous warnings from parents.
The lawsuit says Paramount Baptist Church “did not take even the most basic of precautions” to shield children from being molested by Farmer. Instead of requiring multiple adults to be present for children’s activities, it says, the church regularly allowed Farmer to teach Sunday school classes in which he was the only adult present.
The parents claim that when they shared their concerns with the church, they were falsely told they were the first to ever complain about Farmer. They said they were assured Farmer would be investigated and steps would be taken to ensure that no future abuse would take place, but left Farmer in positions of supervision and control over children.
The lawsuit accuses the church of negligence, premises liability, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud based on reckless conduct.
Dave Anderson, executive pastor of Paramount Baptist Church, said in a statement the allegations are “very serious” and the church is “deeply concerned about what is alleged to have taken place.” Because of the pending lawsuit, Anderson said, he could not comment on specifics of the case.
“What we can say is that we take the allegations of the lawsuit very seriously and we are currently investigating its claims,” Anderson said.
Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said it is sad that it apparently took a lawsuit to get the church to treat seriously allegations of child molestation instead of when they occurred.
She said it is an example of how churches cannot do the job of investigating themselves and need an independent review board to which victims can report abuse with a reasonable expectation their voices will be heard.
The Southern Baptist Convention in June referred a motion asking the SBC Executive Committee to study the feasibility of a database listing Southern Baptist clergy credibly accused of sexual harassment or abuse. SBC leaders in the past have said local churches, and not the denomination, are responsible for policing themselves.
Paramount Baptist Church is dually aligned with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and Amarillo Area Baptist Association.
An Amarillo newspaper in1999 quoted Farmer as a spokesman for Paramount Baptist Church’s Vacation Bible School.
In 2000, he was honored with an award for volunteer work with various organizations including Kids, Inc., the Amarillo Soccer Association, Upward Basketball, YMCA Basketball and the Paramount Baptist Church children’s department.
“The way Pat Farmer rushes around town to and from various schools and ball fields, you’d think he had five or six kids to take from place to place,” said a feature story in the Amarillo Globe-News. “But he doesn’t. In fact, he has none, and he isn’t even married.”
While he didn’t have children of his own, Farmer told the newspaper in the May 2000 article, he viewed himself as gifted in working with them and as a positive role model.
“I get to play a big part in building their self-esteem and confidence,” Farmer said. “It’s very rewarding to see them learn, and in a lot of ways I do develop almost a parent-like relationship with a lot of the kids.”
Farmer said a number of the children he worked with and coached were from single-parent families and didn’t have fathers at home.
“I’m able to be a male role model in their lives, and that’s important,” Farmer said. “I honestly believe that God has placed each child I’ve coached with me for a special reason or purpose.”
Despite the allegations, Paramount’s executive pastor said Tuesday the congregation takes very seriously the safety of children who attend the church.
“I am the parent of young children who are actively involved in our children’s ministry,” Anderson said. “As both a parent and a staff member, I can attest that Paramount Baptist Church continually strives to provide an environment where families are safe, secure and given the opportunity to learn about the love of Jesus Christ.”
“The core values at Paramount are Loving God, Sharing Life, and Serving Others,” Anderson said, “and these values continue to be our goal. We ask everyone who reads this to be in prayer for all parties involved in this situation.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.