A Southern Baptist seminary president called charges by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests that he turned a blind eye to allegations of clergy sex abuse “snap judgments” that are “misinformed and inaccurate.”
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, didn’t respond to an e-mail sent Wednesday morning from EthicsDaily.com seeking comment for yesterday’s story asking seminary trustees to suspend Patterson and investigate allegations in 1991 newspaper articles that he repeatedly told women who reported sexual misconduct by his former protÃ©gÃ© Darrell Gilyard to keep quiet unless they had tangible proof.
Gilyard recently resigned as pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., amid a police investigation into whether he sent obscene text messages to two underage girls. No arrest has been made.
On Wednesday night, however, Patterson released a prepared statement that appeared on the Southern Baptist Texan Web site and was picked up at the online Florida Baptist Witness.
“Throughout my 50 years in the ministry, including the time that I served as president of the Criswell College, I have never turned a blind-eye to clergy sex abuse as the SNAP organization purports,” the statement read in part. “Clergy sex abuse is one of the greatest tragedies of the modern era, and in the classroom and in the pulpit I have steadfastly fought and will continue to warn and fight against it. Throughout my years in theological education, I have routinely addressed the subject with every incoming class and again with every graduating class.”
Patterson, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he was “neither investigator nor a judge” nearly two decades ago, but just “the president of a small Bible college.”
“I certainly did not have resources available to me to pursue the case, yet I did all that I could within my means to discover the truth when allegations concerning Mr. Gilyard were brought to my attention,” Patterson said. “Until such time as I could ascertain that Darrell Gilyard was in fact guilty as alleged, I could not make any charge against him. Part of justice includes not making charges against people until one can substantiate those charges. This is a lesson from which SNAP could profit.”
Patterson said that once he investigated the matter and was able to substantiate Gilyard was guilty of adultery, he got him to confess publicly and expelled him from Criswell College and moderated the meeting when he was forced to resign as pastor of a Texas church. Since then, Patterson said, he has had nothing to do with Gilyard.
“I do not and have not endorsed his ministry or work and have made crystal clear to Mr. Gilyard that on the basis of his behavior, as well as his divorce, he has no business serving as pastor of a local church,” Patterson said.Christa Brown, SNAP’s Baptist coordinator, said the story illustrates why Southern Baptists need an independent review board to receive and review allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.
“People trying to report clergy abuse shouldn’t have to turn to the accused pastor’s own colleagues, but should have a place where they can safely report to objective professionals,” she said.
Brown said Southern Baptists should be asking how many women it would take before Patterson would give credence to their allegations of sexual abuse and whether he would ever believe them unless the minister confessed. Brown questioned whether it was enough for Patterson to accept Gilyard’s admission of adultery, when multiple women and college students were accusing him of sexual assault. Was it enough to get Gilyard out of the Southern Baptist Convention, she asked, without taking steps to warn his next church, which was outside the denomination.
“How much longer will Southern Baptists be willing to let their leaders slide by with their pathetic claim of powerlessness?” Brown asked. “How much longer will they tolerate their leaders’ position that Catholic bishops failed because bishops actually had the power to stop predator priests but ‘no bad’ for us because we CAN’T stop predator preachers?”
A Southern Baptist Texan news story accompanying Patterson’s statement described SNAP as an “activist organization” that “made headlines” by using tactics described without attribution as “guilt by association.” The report said SNAP’s Wednesday press release “found a quick venue” in EthicsDaily.com, which it described as “a forum founded by moderate Baptists who routinely offer objections to the conservative leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The Baptist Center for Ethics’ describes its own mission as including “offering a clear moral witness to the larger culture and advancing social change.” EthicsDaily.com has carried about 60 news articles during the last 15 months exposing incidents of sexual abuse by SBC clergy and the response by denominational leaders.
Patterson said in his statement there was little more he could have done to prevent Gilyard from moving to another church.
“I exercise no control over autonomous churches anywhere and have no influence when they are not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said. “I have done everything that I know to do to act justly and at the same time protect as many people as possible from the behavioral pattern of Darrell Gilyard. Once Gilyard was proven guilty, I attested to that guilt to every individual who contacted me for a recommendation or character reference.”
But a 1991 story in the Dallas Morning News said Patterson knew of allegations against Gilyard dating back at least four years and viewed Gilyard as a victim when he was fired from a church amid allegation of sexual impropriety in 1987. Patterson reportedly told the pastor of Hilltop Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., there was nothing to substantiate rumors about Gilyard. The Oklahoma church hired Gilyard as assistant pastor. A year later Gilyard returned to Dallas, as assistant pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Garland, where allegations of sexual misconduct resurfaced. Reports continued after Gilyard became pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, a multi-racial congregation that Gilyard led to affiliate briefly with the SBC before resigning under a cloud in 1991.
The Dallas newspaper said multiple Criswell College students claimed to have reported abuse or suspicion of abuse by Gilyard to Patterson, but he told them not to speak about it or did not return their calls.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.