A Southern Baptist Convention leader described a support-and-advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse by clergy as “evil doers” who are “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.”The comments, included in 6,700-word story published Thursday in the alternative newsweekly Nashville Scene, were from e-mails exchanged in January between Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and Debbie Vasquez, a woman living in Lewisville, Texas, who claims she was raped and impregnated as a teenager more than 30 years ago by a man who is still a pastor of a Southern Baptist church.
Vasquez, who tells her story in details too graphic for EthicsDaily.com in the Scene article, wrote Patterson asking him to help educate other ministers and push for a better system of dealing with sexual abuse by clergy. EthicsDaily.com obtained a copy of the e-mails from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. SNAP, a support group formed to seek reform amid the Catholic priest pedophilia scandal five years ago, for the last year-and-a-half has turned attention to the nation’s second-largest faith group, Southern Baptists.
Patterson said in an e-mail dated Jan. 13 that he doesn’t usually respond to anonymous e-mails. Vasquez identified herself only by first name in her initial e-mail Jan. 12 but more fully in a response to Patterson the following day. Patterson said he was making an exception out of pastoral concern.
But Patterson turned defensive when Vasquez asked him to explain comments attributed to him in news stories questioning his handling of allegations in the late 1980s and early 1990s against Darrell Gilyard, a one-time protÃ©gÃ© now accused of sending lewd text messages to a teenager in Jacksonville, Fla.
“Debbie, what more did you want me to do?” he asked. “Would you feel better if I shot him? I am not a detective, a judge, a jury or an executioner. But I did then and since, and always all I could do.”
Of SNAP, which recently asked Southwestern’s trustees to put Patterson on administrative leave and investigate whether he could have done more to warn other churches about Gilyard’s alleged pattern of sexual abuse, Patterson had this to say:
“SNAP is just as reprehensible as sex criminals. To make false accusations against a person in an effort to tarnish his reputation, as they regularly do and have most recently done to me, is just as reprehensible and involves just as little integrity. My little granddaughters, 10 and 8, were here the other day and heard on TV that their grandpa harbored sex criminals! I suppose that this is somehow OK since I am a pastor?”
In a follow-up e-mail Jan. 13, Patterson continued to chastise Vasquez.
“You continue to suggest that I am not doing enough, without any facts whatsoever,” he wrote. “You also protect evil doers who have slandered others. Is the slander of SNAP somehow not a hideous sin also? I am sorry Debbie, but I cannot help anyone whose mind is made up to do wrong even when I regret deeply what has happened to them. I will pray that God meets your every need.”
In his first e-mail, Patterson counseled Vasquez about her pain. “If you please God with your life He will make it up to you in ten thousand ways, because He is a just, loving and merciful God,” he wrote. “But He will not bless if you allow your sorrows to cause you to join false accusers in defamation of character.”
Christa Brown, Baptist outreach director for SNAP, told EthicsDaily.com that Vasquez contacted Patterson on her own and that she did not find out about the e-mails until Vasquez forwarded them to her after the fact.
Brown, who has in the past said she wished Southern Baptist leaders would refrain from questioning SNAP’s motives and methods, because doing so undermines trust for sexual-abuse survivors like Vasquez, said Thursday it always surprises her “that religious leaders will say such hateful things and yet they do.”
“I don’t imagine for one second that Paige Patterson has a clue about whether or not God will bless Debbie or me or anyone else,” Brown said. “Who does he think he is telling Debbie that God will ‘not bless’ her? God will decide whether to bless us, not Paige Patterson.”
The Nashville Scene investigative article includes several stories reported during the last 17 months by EthicsDaily.com. To date EthicsDaily.com has carried 74 news stories and a dozen opinion articles since a Sept. 27, 2006, report that first detailed SNAP’s contention that Southern Baptists’ free-wheeling style of local-church autonomy indirectly shields sexual predators. SNAP called it a “systemic” problem and proposed concrete steps to better protect children from sexual abuse.
The SBC Executive Committee is expected to discuss the matter when the group meets next Monday and Tuesday in Nashville. Last June about 8,600 messengers at the SBC annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, asked the Executive Committee to study the feasibility of a denomination-wide database of “Southern Baptist clergy and staff who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse.”
A bylaws work group discussed the referred motion when the Executive Committee last met in September. The work group has provided few details so far about the study, but individual leaders including SBC President Frank Page and August Boto, the Executive Committee staff member charged with resourcing the process, are both on record saying they doubt a national registry would be effective.
Nashville Scene reports a circulation of 52,000. Published by Village Voice Media, the paper’s sister publications include the Phoenix New Times, the weekly newspaper that first broke the story in 1997 about an alleged Ponzi scheme at the Baptist Foundation of Arizona that eventually sent the organization into bankruptcy and three top officials to prison.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.