|The head of an Illinois Baptist ministry that specializes in work with abused and neglected children says he stands by his decision four years ago to ask for leniency in the sentencing of a pastor who confessed to criminal sexual assault of a teenage girl.
Doug Devore, executive director of Baptist Children's Home & Family Services in Carmi, Ill., wrote a letter on agency letterhead Feb. 14, 2003, asking that Les Mason not receive prison time for his crime.
The judge in the case disagreed, sentencing the disgraced pastor of Olney Southern Baptist Church to seven years in Danville Correctional Center. Mason, 40, is eligible for parole in March 2009.
In his letter, from Mason's criminal file and posted this week on a blog at StopBaptistPredators.org, Devore, who has 35 years experience in children's home ministries, said he believed Mason had already paid high enough a price for his offense, saying he had lost his ministerial career, experienced financial ruin and his reputation would never be the same.
"In my opinion Les is not a threat to other children in the community," Devore wrote. "In fact I believe he still has a great deal to offer society. He is an intelligent, warm and caring person. Therefore I feel it would serve nothing to imprison him but only be punitive in nature."
Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests commented on Devore's letter.
"It's deeply disturbing that a Baptist leader with 30 years worth of children's home experience would so minimize this terrible crime," Brown wrote. "And it's a betrayal to Illinois Baptists that this man would so misuse the 'Baptist Children's Home' name as to turn it into a support system for a child molester."
Contacted by EthicsDaily.com, Devore termed Brown's criticism "preposterous" and "outright false in its accusation and implication."
"My years of professional experience provide the very foundation for the understanding, compassion and prayer for grace that needs to be shown to victim and perpetrator alike," Devore said.
Also contacted by EthicsDaily.com, Brown stood by her blog description of Devore's letter.
"In urging that Mason should face no prison time for 'his behavior,' Devore minimized a terrible crime and treated it as a matter of little consequence," Brown said.
Devore said he believed leniency in sentencing would give Mason the "best chance to redeem himself." He said Mason committed a "deplorable act" and "should be held responsible to face the consequences of his behavior," but he still needs "love and care to help him amend that behavior."
"Jesus taught forgiveness and mercy, and to reach out to others in love," Devore said. "My prayer was then and is still today that Mr. Mason would receive professional counseling, not just punishment."
Devore said he believes abuse perpetrators, along with victims, can be redeemed. "Punishment is important but alone can never heal the deeper, more complex hurts that live inside a perpetrator," he said. "There must also be professional counseling mixed with the grace and mercy our Lord taught us. For years and years, BCHFS has provided this essential balance in its counseling to children and adults in our care."
Brown said she agrees compassion must be shown toward both victims and perpetrators. "But this does not mean that clergy-perpetrators should not face serious consequences."
Brown, a survivor of sexual abuse as a teenager by her Southern Baptist youth minister, has been lobbying the nation's largest Protestant faith group to reform the way it handles sexual abuse by clergy (story links below.) She said her efforts have produced little evidence of genuine compassion toward victims of Southern Baptist clergy molesters.
"The denomination doesn't even provide a professionally-staffed office to which victims can report abuse," Brown said. "The denomination makes no outreach effort to find and help clergy abuse victims. And the denomination doesn't provide professional counseling to those who report clergy abuse. Typically, Southern Baptist clergy abuse victims are treated as pariahs."
"When Southern Baptist officials demonstrate as much care for clergy abuse victims as they do for clergy-perpetrators, kids in Southern Baptist churches will be a great deal safer," she said.
Devore's letter was one of 32 written on Mason's behalf prior to his sentencing. Several, written by members of First Baptist Church of Fairfield, Ill., where Mason's parents attended, also are now posted online.
One, by a youth worker named Barry Baker, offered this defense: "As I have worked with young people I have had those situations when a girl had a crush on me. The girls come to youth meetings wearing much less than is fair for us as boys and men. What I am saying is that only by the grace of God can I say that I didn't have wrong relationships. I have even thanked God that I am not a guy that the girls find irresistible."
Two years after writing that letter, Baker was elected a trustee of Baptist Children's Home & Family Services. He could not be reached for comment.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.