By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist Convention official has refused to apologize for comments seven years ago that critics of the denomination’s handling of sexual abuse were not really advocating on behalf of children but rather were opportunists motivated by personal gain.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Amy Smith, a Baptist SNAP leader in Texas, wrote SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page April 23 requesting an apology for his “hurtful comment” when the convention gathers for annual meeting next month in Baltimore.
Page, at the time a pastor and SBC president, wrote a Baptist Press commentary titled “Guarding Against Sexual Abuse” published April 2, 2007. Two weeks later — after Page appeared in an ABC News “20/20” story about the denomination’s shortcomings in curbing sexual abuse by clergy — the article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness with a new paragraph.
“Let me also share one other word of clarification,” he wrote. “Please realize that there are groups who claim to be one thing when in reality they are another. It would be great if the many groups who are claiming to be groups of advocacy and encouragement in ministry were that which they claim. Please be aware that there are groups that are nothing more than opportunistic persons who are seeking to raise opportunities for personal gain.”
Clohessy and Smith said with the benefit of hindsight, they hoped Page would “realize the extraordinary harm” in what he wrote.
“For many clergy sex abuse survivors, such a derisive put-down served only to magnify the harm,” they said in their letter. “Indeed, shortly after your column made print, we heard from one clergy abuse survivor who said she could scarcely breathe upon seeing your words. That’s how hurtful those words were. And not only were your words extremely hurtful in causing additional pain to child rape victims, but they were also hurtful in terms of fostering a climate of hostility toward clergy abuse survivors within your faith group. Coming from such a high official in the largest Protestant denomination, your words set a terrible example for other church and denominational leaders. So again, we ask for your public apology — better late than never.”
In addition to an apology, the SNAP leaders also asked Page to re-do a study commissioned in 2007 about the feasibility of establishing a database of credibly accused clergy predators and an independent commission to receive and evaluate reports of sexual abuse. They further asked for an opportunity to speak either at the convention or before the Executive Committee to put the matter into perspective.
Page responded May 27 that upon reflection, “I do not feel it best to satisfy your requests.”
“The reasons are the same as they were seven years ago when I made the statement you asked me to apologize for,” he wrote. He added that the statement “was addressed to opportunists rather than to suffering victims — a group for which I have great compassion.”
Though Page never mentioned any particular group by name, the only public criticism at the time on the subject was from SNAP, a support group for abuse survivors formed during the Roman Catholic abuse scandal in the early 2000s.