A Baptist pastor in Texas will apparently remain in the pulpit after reportedly settling a lawsuit claiming sexual abuse of a minor.
Sources familiar with the case told EthicsDaily.com settlement in principle was reached in a lawsuit filed June 8 against Larry Reynolds, pastor of Southmont Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, alleging years ago he had sexual relations with a girl that began when she was 14 and continued for seven years.
The woman, now 37, also named the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Southern Baptist Convention and Denton Baptist Association in the suit, alleging negligence and fraudulent concealment.
Sources say the suit is being settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of money, while the plaintiff and her lawyer agree never to mention it again except to a therapist.
Christa Brown, an advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse in Southern Baptist churches, told EthicsDaily.com that such confidentiality agreements are too common in cases covering up sexual abuse.
"In clergy abuse cases, confidentiality agreements constitute hush money," said Brown, who works as an attorney. "It's as simple as that."
"I believe they are very damaging to the victim psychologically, because they contractualize into perpetuity the shamed silence that the victim already feels and needs to work past," Brown said. "And of course these sorts of agreements do nothing to protect others. Secrecy is the friend of predators."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop adopted a policy in 2002 discouraging the use of confidentiality agreements in dealing with people who report abuse by priests, a reaction to scandal over Catholic leaders allowing priests accused of sexual abuse to keep working.
Baptist leaders, in contrast, Brown said, "apparently have not yet seen how morally questionable and repugnant these agreements are, and they are continuing to use them."
A member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Brown has called on leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to develop a comprehensive national strategy to weed out sexual predators, including establishment of an independent review board, zero-tolerance of sexual abuse and discouraging the use of secrecy contracts.
"In this way, the SBC leadership will demonstrate a strong commitment to supporting those who reveal such abuse rather than the churches that strive to keep it secret," Brown and other SNAP representatives said in a letter to SBC leaders Frank Page, Morris Chapman and Richard Land hand-delivered to SBC headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 26.
SBC leaders have not formally responded, but a convention spokesperson said Sept. 29 leaders were willing to discuss the issue but needed "time to vet the specific requests being made of the convention."
Brown claims she was sexually abused 37 years ago, when she was 16, by a Southern Baptist minister when she was involved in the youth group at First Baptist Church in Farmers Branch, Texas. As part of a settlement of a lawsuit, the church in January wrote a letter of apology for "very serious sexual abuse" and failing to adequately respond when informed about it in 1969.
The minister was forced to leave but went on to work for decades in Southern Baptist churches in Georgia and Florida. He was not forced to leave the ministry until a lawsuit by Brown received publicity in the form of a news story in the Orlando Sentinel in Oct. 2005.
Brown says she went to 18 Southern Baptist leaders in four states with substantiated reports of the minister's sexual abuse, including his listing in a confidential file related to sexual misconduct of clergy kept by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but none acted to warn people in the pews.
Brown maintains it points to a systemic problem, where predators can easily hide within Southern Baptists' free-wheeling structure of local church autonomy.
She has also asked the BGCT to make public its list of suspected abusers, so parents can be informed and children better protected.
Emily Row, a member of the BGCT's congregational leadership team, did not immediately respond to a Friday e-mail asking if Reynolds' name is on the list. The stated policy is that such information is shared only by written inquiry of an officer of a church or Baptist institution to assist in making employment decisions.
The lawsuit against Reynolds, which is on file in Dallas County District Court, alleges the plaintiff joined the youth group at Reynolds' church when she was 13 years old. It claims she entered into a counseling relationship with the pastor that turned sexual, beginning with fondling when she was 14 and then moving on to other sexual acts continuing into her college years.
The suit alleged that Reynolds promised the girl when she was older he would leave his wife and marry her. It wasn't until she turned 35, it said, she learned that promise was "disingenuous and an outright lie."
Reynolds did not respond to an e-mail request for comment sent Thursday afternoon. He is founding pastor of the 1,900-member church established in 1979. It is listed as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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