Report: Hundreds abused by Southern Baptist leaders, workers

From L to R: Daniel Moore, Jordan Roseboom, Craig Burden and Nathan St. Pierre, all church leaders convicted of sexual misconduct.
Southern Baptist Sex Abuse
Sex abuse scandal

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Hundreds of Southern Baptist church leaders and workers have been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 20 years, including dozens who returned to church duties, according to a joint investigation by two newspapers.

The San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that their six-month investigation found about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and workers who were accused of sexual misconduct since 1998, leaving more than 700 victims. Some were as young as 3 years old while others were adults when they were abused, the newspapers reported.

The Southern Baptist Convention has 47,000 autonomous churches made up of 15 million members.

About 220 offenders — among them pastors, ministers, Sunday school teachers, deacons and church volunteers — have been convicted or have taken plea deals, with dozens of cases still pending. Nearly 100 are still in prison, according to state and federal records. Dozens of others made plea deals and served no time. More than 100 are registered sex offenders, and some have returned to the pulpit. At least 35 church pastors, employees and volunteers who exhibited predatory behavior were still able to find jobs at churches.

The report lists six people from Indiana affiliated with the church who have been convicted. They have been convicted of sexual crimes stemming from their work within the convention as ministers, youth pastors, music directors and volunteers.

In a 2010 federal case, Bernard Squires pleaded guilty to child pornography charges. He served as a Pastor in Indiana.

Daniel J. Moore, a Minister, also pleaded guilty in a 2010 case out of Johnson County. His charges include sexual misconduct with a minor.

In a 2013 case out of Montgomery County, Jordan Lee Roseboom was convicted on child molestation convictions. He volunteered as a youth minister and was released from prison on probation in 2017.

In Tippecanoe County, church music leader Craig A. Burden was convicted child pornography and child exploitation charges in 2016. He was released from prison in 2018.

Nathan Anthony St. Pierre served as a youth choir director and pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor in a 2008 case out of Vanderburgh County.

In Clark County, youth volunteer Scott Grose faced charged including child molestation in 2008.

Several past presidents and prominent Southern Baptist Convention leaders have been accused by victims of concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their churches or seminaries, the newspapers reported.

Eyewitness News spoke to a pastor from one of the churches where an incident took place.

"Obviously there is the trauma to the victim themselves. That is heart-wrenching. No one should have to endure any kind of violation of this nature. Beyond that, the congregation and the community itself suffers," said the minister, who asked not to be identified. "The best prescription for any problem is trust and transparency. I'd like to believe it's a good thing. To take this out of the religious circle if I move into a community I would like to know if there are violators out there and if that person regardless whether they are in the religious circle or not become a part of that.

"As our nation looks at this they remember a majority of the church is not responsible for the things being discussed. They are like us who go with trust in our hearts and are mistreated. We become victims when anybody decides to break our laws, deciding to betray trust, so be praying for us."

This pastor currently serves at one of the six Indiana churches where an instance of abuse occurred. He was not at the church at the time, but admits membership has suffered dramatically since the incident.

In 2008, a victim implored SBC leaders to track sexual predators, act against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers and establish sexual abuse prevention policies such as those adopted by other faiths, including the Roman Catholic Church. But the SBC Executive Committee rejected the proposals.

The committee's interim president, August Boto, who drafted that rejection document, expressed "sorrow" on Sunday about the newspapers' findings.

"It would be sorrow if it were 200 or 600 cases. Sorrow. What we're talking about is criminal. The fact that criminal activity occurs in a church context is always the basis of grief. But it's going to happen. And that statement (he drafted in 2008) does not mean that we must be resigned to it," he told the newspapers.

The Rev. J.D. Greear, who was elected as the SBC's president last June, said the abuses described in the news report "are pure evil."

"I am broken over what was revealed today," Greear wrote in a series of posts on Twitter. "The voices in this article should be heard as a warning sent from God, calling the church to repent."

In recent years, several abuse survivors and their supporters have campaigned on the issue of sexual abuse within the SBC community. Activists remain skeptical as to whether the study committee created last July will recommend sufficiently tough anti-abuse measures.

The committee was formed following a series of revelations about sexual misconduct cases involving SBC churches and seminaries, including allegations that led to the ouster of powerful leader Paige Patterson as president of a seminary in Texas.

"We leaders in the SBC should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this," Greear tweeted. "I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again."

He said the SBC must do better in preventing abuse, commit to full cooperation with legal authorities when it does occur, and offer better care to abuse victims. He also the SBC should never again try to skirt responsibility for abuse by asserting that its affiliated churches are autonomous. In late July, the SBC said it would form a high-level study group to develop strategies for combatting sexual abusers and ministering to their victims.

"We cannot just promise to 'do better' and expect that to be enough," Greear wrote. "But today, change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem."

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)