Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page said critics of the convention’s policy on sexual abuse by clergy are not really advocating on behalf of children but rather are opportunists motivated by personal gain.
Page’s comments in a point of view article in this week’s Florida Baptist Witness. The column is mostly only slightly edited from a column titled “Guarding Against Sexual Abuse” that appeared April 2 in Baptist Press. That was after Page had been interviewed for by ABC News for a “20/20” report on “Predator Preachers,” but before he had seen the story, which aired last Friday.
But Page’s updated column this week includes one new paragraph not in the original article.
“Let me also share one other word of clarification,” he wrote. “Please realize that there are groups who claim to be one thing when in reality they are another. It would be great if the many groups who are claiming to be groups of advocacy and encouragement in ministry were that which they claim. Please be aware that there are groups that are nothing more than opportunistic persons who are seeking to raise opportunities for personal gain.”
Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., did not respond to an e-mail requesting him to name examples of such groups in time to be included in this story, but the only group calling for reform in recent media coverage is the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a group that five years ago pressured the Roman Catholic Church to establish an independent review board to investigate and collect allegations of abusive priests.
Christa Brown of SNAP-Baptist told EthicsDaily.com she was “dismayed” by Page’s comment, which she described as “flat-out name calling.”
SNAP doesn’t claim to be an “advocacy group,” Browns said, but “a self-help support network of people who have survived a terrible crime.”
“We are a self-help organization of crime victims with over 8,000 members,” she said. “We are crime victims, not ‘opportunistic persons … seeking … personal gain.'”
“I am very saddened to see Dr. Page continuing to minimize the extent of this problem, and continuing to take a blame-the-messenger approach that seeks to discredit the victims of this horrible crime,” Brown said. “Some of the most indefatigable members of SNAP are parents who had a kid commit suicide–sometimes many years after the abuse.
“Dr. Page’s uncharitable suggestion that these groups are ‘nothing more than opportunistic persons’ is a suggestion that negates and minimizes the great loss of these parents and that devalues the endless work they do in trying to save other people’s kids.”
Brown called Page’s remark “a slap in the face for the many, many people who have been victimized by the horrific crimes of Southern Baptist clergy and by the blind-eyed, do-nothing attitude of so many of this denomination’s leaders.”
Page told ABC’s Jim Avila the Southern Baptist Convention was looking into establishing a database of clergy sex offenders, if that would help churches spot and weed out predators.
After the program aired, however, Page criticized it as “one-sided,” calling it “yellow journalism” and a “slice-and-dice” piece to make it look like Southern Baptists aren’t doing enough to combat sexual abuse by clergy.
Page repeated in the Florida Baptist Witness column that he agreed to talk to ABC, “because even one instance of sexual abuse by a minister is too much.”
“While I do not believe the problem is systemic and large-scale, there have been several reported cases of abuse by trusted members of staff in our churches,” Page said.
Brown said even looking at the last six months, and counting only actual convictions, the number of reports of abusive clergy is “more than several.”
“Page needs to acknowledge that,” she said. “To do otherwise is to minimize a very serious problem.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com