The Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee on Tuesday promised to make publicly available a version of an internal database identifying known and accused sex abusers within its church.
Its decision was discussed during a virtual meeting that followed the release Sunday of an outside report commissioned by the committee that detailed widespread allegations of sexual misconduct among clergy and a cover-up involving the upper echelons of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The first step to create transparency, committee leaders said, will be to make public the list of sex abusers that was maintained by a former committee vice president, August Boto, who retired in 2019.
The list will be released, however, only after the names of survivors and confidential witnesses are redacted from reports, as well as the names of alleged sex abusers whose actions remain uncorroborated, said Gene Besen, the committee’s interim counsel.
“It’s our commitment and intent to review the unsubstantiated allegations, and if more can be substantiated, we will release those as well,” Besen said.
The report by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm that conducts investigations on behalf of faith-based organizations, was launched in response to mounting accusations against church clergy across the country in recent years, bringing a #MeToo moment-type reckoning to the the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.
The report said Boto’s database contained 703 names of known and accused abusers, and that neither him nor anyone else on the committee “took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.”
The report does not say how many committee members knew about the database but some “were aware of the existence of Southern Baptist-related sexual abuse allegations for many years.”
Boto could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Executive committee leaders also took the rare step of publicly admonishing one of their own, rebuking a comment made by Boto, who is mentioned throughout the Guidepost report. In one instance, the report’s investigators said Boto sent a letter in 2006 to a woman who had accused a youth pastor of sexually assaulting her as a child, writing that “continued discourse” between himself and the woman about her allegations “will not be positive or fruitful.”
The executive committee said in a statement Tuesday that it “rejects this sentiment in its entirety and seeks to publicly repent for its failure to rectify this position and wholeheartedly listen to survivors.”
The executive committee, which acts as the denomination’s administrative body and is made up of dozens of clergy and lay members from across the country, said it would look into whether it could revoke Boto’s retirement benefits and those of others featured in the report.
The release of a secret list of alleged sex abusers has long been championed by members who say they’ve been victimized and ignored by the church. Some committee members have questioned whether the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole could be held responsible for what happens at individual churches.
But several members used Tuesday’s meeting to offer apologies to those who have been abused.
Willie McLaurin, the exeuctive committee’s interim president, said “we’ll never know the full extent of the pain and the hurt that was caused to survivors” but believes “now is the time to change the culture.”
The Guidepost report offers several reforms the Southern Baptist Convention could implement, including creating and maintaining an “Offender Information System” to alert the community to alleged offenders and restricting the use of nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements that bind accusers to confidentiality in sexual abuse matters.
A church task force will present its own recommendations based on the report during its annual meeting next month in Anaheim, California.