NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The ethics leader of the Southern Baptist Convention has promised to encourage reforms that protect children after a sweeping investigation published Sunday found more than 700 victims of sexual misconduct by church leaders or volunteers.
In total, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News compiled more than 380 cases over the last 20 years of church leaders and volunteers who have been charged with sex crimes. Most are now in prison or are registered sex offenders, according to the report.
Russell Moore, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president of the Southern Baptist Convention, commended the work by the publications.
"The report is alarming and scandalous, the courage and grace of these survivors is contrasted with the horrific depravity of those who would use the name of Jesus to prey on them," Moore said in a Sunday blog post.
Headquartered in Nashville, Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. They believe in local control of the church.
In a statement on Twitter, J.D. Greear, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, "I aThe abuses described in this @HoustonChron article are pure evil. I join with countless others who are currently 'weeping with those who weep.' "
The investigation was spurred on by Southern Baptist Convention leaders' unwillingness for more than a decade to create a list of sexual predators from affiliated churches, the news outlets said. Together, the news outlets created their own.
In Moore's blog about the investigation, he did not call for mandatory reforms at every church. He said that the convention would work with cooperating churches and the scandal should be handled as a flock, not as a corporation.
"Our approach is seeking to encourage policies and practices that protect children and the vulnerable from sexual abuse in autonomous but cooperating churches, all the while promoting compliance with laws and providing compassionate care for those who have survived trauma," Moore said in the blog post. "True, we have no bishops. But we have a priesthood of believers. And a key task of that priesthood is maintaining the witness of Christ in the holiness and safety of his church. That means training churches to recognize sexual predation and how to deal with charges or suspicions when they emerge, and equipping churches to stop the pattern, in their church or from their church to others."
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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.
"No church should be frustrated by the Houston Chronicle's reporting, but should thank God for it," Moore said. "The Judgment Seat of Christ will be far less reticent than a newspaper series to uncover what should never have been hidden.
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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Investigation finds decades of abuse in Southern Baptist Convention