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Clergy Sex Abuse Case Reveals Flaws in SBC System, Victims’ Advocate Says

A former Southern Baptist music minister convicted of sexual abuse of children in two states managed to move from church to church, despite background checks and a history of addiction to pornography.

Shawn D. Davies, 33, pleaded guilty Nov. 20 in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Missouri to 27 counts of statutory sodomy, furnishing pornography and liquor to a minor, use of a child in sexual performance, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual misconduct involving a child under the age of 14. Those incidents, involving seven teenage boys, occurred between the summer of 2003 and October 2005 at FirstBaptistChurch in Greenwood, Mo., near Kansas City.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Davies is already in prison in Kentucky, after pleading guilty in December 2005 to performing sexual acts with boys at a small, unidentified church near Georgetown, Ky., in 1998 or 1999. In between, he reportedly was employed by First Baptist Church of Ferguson, Mo., in suburban St. Louis.
 
A victims’ advocate called it a “dreadful” case that illustrates the Southern Baptist Convention’s inadequate response to the problem of sexual abuse by clergy. Because of a bottom-up ecclesiology, where churches are responsible for choosing their own ministers and the denomination has no authority to defrock clergy, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says the nation’s second-largest faith group needs a centralized office that keeps track of reported clergy perpetrators, investigates reported incidents and provides objective information readily to churches.
 
“With that sort of centralized resource, it is much more likely that the horror of what happened to these kids could have been prevented,” Christa Brown of SNAP-Baptist told EthicsDaily.com.
 
SNAP leaders have asked Southern Baptist officials to create such an office as part of a comprehensive, SBC-wide effort to weed out clergy sexual predators. The leaders have not responded to SNAP’s letter, hand-delivered to the denomination’s headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., nearly four months ago.
 
Two weeks ago EthicsDaily.com reported the story of convicted child molester in Florida who was pastor of Southern Baptist churches in Maryland and Alabama in a ministry spanning 30 years before his arrest last year for molesting a parishioner’s grandson.
 
The current pastor of Doug Myers’ former church in Maryland did not respond to inquiries by EthicsDaily.com, but a woman who read the Jan. 5 story about his conviction said she stopped her two sons from attending the church because she was suspicious and disapproved of Myers’ familiarity with the children.
 
“I voiced my thoughts and feelings to my in-laws, who also attended the church,” she said in an e-mail. “They thought I was horrible for suggesting that a man of the cloth could do such things. But I knew. A mother knows.”
 
Not everyone has the benefit of such intuition. Lee Orth, chairman of a litigation committee at FirstBaptistChurch in Greenwood, Mo., said Davies was very talented at music. Davies was a bit arrogant at times, Orth told the Greenwood Dispatch, but no one suspected him of being a pedophile. “I don’t know anyone who has said they saw this side of Shawn,” Orth said. “You can’t see a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde side of a person.”
 
Orth said the church did two background checks on Davies prior to hiring him in 2003. Nothing showed up, probably because back then he had not been convicted of a crime.
 
According to the Georgetown News-Graphic, police in Kentucky began investigating Davies in November 2001, after a boy notified the sheriff’s department that a youth minister at his church showed him and other boys pornographic movies either in 1998 or 1999. Davies also allegedly had sexual contact with at least one boy.
 
With help from another department, officials learned Davies was living in Missouri, where police began a lengthy investigation of him in July 2005, after a 14-year-old boy who did community service at First Baptist Church of Greenwood reported sexual misconduct he said occurred during the summer of 2004.
 
The Greenwood newspaper reported that the pastor at the time, Mike Ray, talked about the allegations against Davies with deacons in July 2005, but Davies was not suspended until the end of October, after a computer company found pornography on his computer. An earlier search did not find substantial evidence.
 
Orth defended Ray’s handling of the situation in June, denying there was a cover-up and saying Davies was fired as soon as there was substantial proof. Ray left the church last fall.
 
On Jan. 12, Davies was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Jackson County Circuit Court. The sentence runs concurrent with his current 10-year sentence in Kentucky. That means when he is released from the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange, he will be transferred to a prison in Missouri, where he will serve the remainder of his 20 years.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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Assistant DA Says Pastor’s Failure to Report Sex Abuse Could Be a Crime
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Bellevue Investigates Minister for ‘Moral Failure’
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