A grand jury in Tucson, Ariz., has indicted a Southern Baptist youth minister arrested Jan. 11 on eight counts of sexual abuse of a minor, a local television station reported Friday.

According to KOLD News 13, the five-page indictment details charges against Christopher Decaire, 57, who was arrested after police served a search warrant on East Tucson Baptist Church. Decaire had worked two years as a part-time minister but volunteered in the church’s student ministry before that for six years.

Decaire was initially placed on administrative leave. The church Web site no longer lists him as a member of the church staff. The church’s pastor did not respond to an e-mail from EthicsDaily.com asking if Decaire had resigned or was fired before the deadline for this story.

Initial reports listed nine charges against Decaire, but the latest news said the grand jury indictment alleged eight counts of sexual abuse of a minor under age 15. EthicsDaily.com was unable to obtain a copy of the indictment or additional details.

Last week Pastor John Anderson told EthicsDaily.com that East Tucson Baptist Church found itself in “uncharted waters” in dealing with accusations that a trusted staff member sexually abused a 13-year-old girl. “They don’t teach this in seminary,” Anderson told a Tucson newspaper.

But the church is hardly alone. EthicsDaily.com has reported on at least 72 news stories about sexual abuse by clergy, the vast majority involving allegations against Southern Baptist ministers, since September 2006.

Stories included reports of 11 arrests, three convictions and one suicide in 2007 alone. Other stories included a church that allowed a convicted sex offender to preach from its pulpit while knowing about his past and an executive director of a Baptist children’s home who asked for leniency in the sentencing of a pastor who confessed to criminal sexual assault of a teenage girl.

Those stories were part of ongoing coverage of efforts by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests to pressure the 16.3 million-member convention to establish an independent review board for clergy sex abuse similar to those set up by Roman Catholics and other denominations after the Catholic pedophile priest cover-up scandal five years ago.

The SBC Executive Committee is currently studying a motion referred by the convention last June on the feasibility of a national database registering clergy who have been credibly accused of, confessed to or been convicted of sexual abuse or harassment.

Spokesmen for the Executive Committee, which is expected to resume discussion on the referred motion when the leadership group next meets Feb. 18-19 in Nashville, Tenn., have said publicly they believe the denomination lacks ecclesiastical authority to investigate local-church matters.

SBC president Frank Page went on record to deny clergy predators are a “systemic” problem and accuse victim advocates of using the issue for personal gain.

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics accused Southern Baptist leaders of “hiding behind a false wall of local church autonomy” as an excuse not to act.

Leaders of the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship adopted a policy in November for reporting sexual abuse by clergy that SNAP official Christa Brown said provides a model for other Baptist bodies about how to address the problem without infringing on autonomy of the local church.

The plan, approved group’s Coordinating Council, allows both individuals and churches to report ministerial sexual abuse and includes a process for “good-faith investigatory action” if the charge is disputed.

Brent McDougal, coordinator of the Alabama CBF, said the policy is not an attempt to control but rather to “minister” to congregations.

“Sexual abuse by clergy has caused devastating harm to so many persons in the past and threatens to hurt countless people in the future,” McDougal said. “The tendency in Baptist life, and in other denominations, has been to ignore such claims, minimize the hurt that has been done or rationalize the behavior of clergy. It’s our responsibility to hear and respond to claims of clergy sexual abuse in a manner consistent with our faith in Christ. Jesus welcomed children and stood up for the weak.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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