A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is asking organizers of an upcoming religious conference to revoke a speaking invitation to a pastor accused of concealing multiple sex crimes.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said March 31 that allowing controversial Pastor C.J. Mahaney to speak at the April 12-14 Together for the Gospel gathering in Louisville, Ky., would “be tantamount to re-victimizing sex abuse victims” and send a message to would-be whistleblowers: “Don’t bother speaking up. No one will care.”
“It’s reckless and callous when clergymen give prominent positions to colleagues who face charges of concealing child sex crimes,” said SNAP director David Clohessy.
SNAP leaders called on conference organizers Mark Dever, Albert Mohler and Ligon Duncan to withdraw this year’s invitation to Mahaney, a T4G founder who sat out the last conference two years ago due to publicity over a class-action lawsuit alleging he and others sheltered at least 15 child molesters while pastor of a Maryland church and director of a church-planting network now known as Sovereign Grace Churches.
“Every time an accused or admitted complicit church official is honored, it discourages victims, witnesses and whistleblowers from exposing predators, warning parents and protecting kids,” said Pam Palmer, a former member of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., whose daughter was molested by a teenager while Mahaney was pastor of the church in 1993.
Palmer claimed in the lawsuit pastors advised her not to call the police, but the family had already done so, and six months later arranged a “reconciliation” meeting where the 3-year-old was forced to face her abuser and was so frightened she crawled under her mother’s chair.
A judge in Maryland eventually dismissed the lawsuit due to a statute of limitations that requires victims of child-sex abuse to file a civil lawsuit within seven years of turning 18. The lawyer representing the alleged victims is preparing a similar lawsuit to be filed in Virginia.
A member of Covenant Life Church testified at a recent hearing in the Maryland state senate claiming allegations of abuse and cover-up at the church were “undoubtedly false.” A plaintiff in the lawsuit commented on the SGM Survivors blog her assessment of the case was “unbelievable” and “lacks any compassion for the victims.”
More recently a second member of the congregation was arrested for alleged sex crimes. Larry Caffery, 66, was charged March 16 with 11 counts of sex abuse and false imprisonment.
Brent Detwiler, a former associate of Mahaney’s and now a leading critic, says church leaders were aware of a book Caffery wrote confessing he once feared that if he ever had a daughter he might sexually abuse her but still allowed him to work in the congregation’s children’s ministry.
A former member of Covenant Life Church, Nate Morales, was sentenced in 2014 to 40 years in prison for molesting at least four boys while serving in the youth ministry in the 1980s. During the trial a longtime pastor admitted in hindsight he should have reported Morales to police in 1992. Morales moved to Nevada and married a woman with five sons who filed for divorce when he was arrested.
Mahaney, now pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Ky., withdrew from leadership of the T4G conference in 2014, saying he didn’t want negative publicity about the lawsuit to be a distraction. A photo showing him at the conference seated with speakers on the front row subsequently appeared on several blogs.
Recently Mahaney, whose church is now affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a promotional video he is eager for his return.
“I can’t wait for the opening song of T4G,” Mahaney gushed. “I can’t wait to add my voice to your voice at the opening song of T4G 2016.”
SNAP leaders said even if they don’t believe the accusations of cover-up are true, T4G leaders should consider the “implications toward the gospel message” if sexual abuse victims are hurt again “for the sake of the popularity of a preacher and the financial success of a conference.”
“Giving corrupt men like Mahaney praise and visibility adds to the already strong sense of powerlessness that many who saw, suspected and suffered clergy sex crimes feel,” Palmer said. “It decreases the chances they’ll find the courage and hope needed to speak up about horrific wrongs. So it basically sanctions the concealing of sexual assaults against children.”
Joining Mahaney in this year’s T4G lineup are regulars Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington and president of president of 9Marks ministries; and Duncan, chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary.
Other speakers include Calvinist author John Piper of Desiring God ministries; Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington; Matt Chandler, lead pastor at The Village Church in Dallas who last year apologized for mishandling a church discipline case involving child pornography; and David Platt, president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Along with Mahaney, SNAP urged conference leaders to disinvite two Sovereign Grace Churches officials scheduled to lead a breakout session.