Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention announced Tuesday that they were preparing to release a secretly maintained list of hundreds of ministers and church workers they say are credibly accused of sexual abuse.
The existence of the list was revealed Sunday in a bombshell report on the denomination’s handling of sexual abuse over the course of the past two decades. The report, produced by a third-party investigator and totaling almost 300 pages, alleged that the denomination’s top leaders had suppressed reports of sexual abuse, opposed proposals for reform, and denigrated and discouraged abuse victims who approached them for help.
One of the report’s most shocking revelations was the existence of an internal list of 703 suspected abusers, compiled by an employee of the denomination’s executive committee, its national leadership body.
According to the report, an executive committee staff member compiled and maintained the list over the course of a decade, and shared it with D. August Boto, the committee’s former vice president and general counsel. Mr. Boto and the staff member both retired in 2019. Mr. Boto could not be reached immediately for comment.
Survivors of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and seminaries had pressed the denomination for years to compile and publicize a list of known offenders. Leadership insisted that because of its decentralized structure, they had no ability to take action.
The new report revealed that the most recent list contained the names of 703 suspected abusers, with hundreds believed to have been affiliated with the denomination at some point in time. Investigators found that nine people on the list appeared to have remained in active ministry, with two in Southern Baptist settings.
The decision to release the names is the first definitive step the denomination has taken since the release of the report sent shock waves through the denomination.
“Promptly releasing that list is in our best interest, it’s important, it is of immediate concern to the public and to the survivor community, and we need to do it right away,” Gene Besen, the executive committee’s interim counsel, told committee members in a sometimes tense meeting on Tuesday. He said he was moving to release the list “as quickly as we can.”
Mr. Besen said his team was in the process of redacting the names of survivors and sources, where appropriate, and redacting any claims that cannot be substantiated through news reports and other sources.
The creation of an “Offender Information System” was one of the new report’s primary recommendations. Southern Baptists will convene for their annual meeting in mid-June in Anaheim, Calif., where they will consider other action items based on the report’s findings and recommendations.