Advocate says SBC leader gives bad advice

David Clohessy of SNAP denounced a seminary president’s advice against reporting church matters to the press as “self-serving, unhealthy and often dangerous.”

By Bob Allen

A leading advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse says a Southern Baptist leader’s advice not to take congregational disputes to the media “flies in the face of common sense and civic duty.”

David ClohessyDavid Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, credited church whistleblowers in just the last three weeks with helping to expose three credibly accused clerics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Clohessy, who advocated for victims during the Roman Catholic sexual-abuse scandal a decade ago, said Southern Baptists are a different denomination, but the cover-up of clergy child sex crimes doesn’t happen just in Catholicism.

Clohessy responded to an Oct. 15 sermon by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson claiming the prohibition in First Corinthians 6 on church members suing one another “also means that you don’t take matters to the press.”

“We don’t take matters before unbelievers,” Patterson said. “What goes on in the church of God doesn’t go to the press.”

“I’m not going to talk to the press about things that are matters internal to the church of the Living God,” Patterson said. “It is none of their business. And they can’t possibly get it right, and they don’t get it right, so why do you take it to the world of unbelief? Whether that be the court, whether that be the press? ‘Well there’s just no other way to handle it.’ Yes there is. Commit it to the Lord God Almighty.”

Clohessy, an abuse survivor who testified before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, said experienced and unbiased professionals in law enforcement are better qualified than churches to investigate suspicions, prosecute predators and prevent abuse.

“They should be called promptly -- and anonymously, if need be -- every time a Baptist church member or staffer suspects that a child has been or is being hurt,” he said.

Clohessy said the same is true when it comes to possible financial misconduct in churches. “First, it’s our duty as citizens to call law enforcement about any suspected crimes,” he said. “Second, it’s our experience that often clergy steal money to buy expensive gifts for victims or pay ‘hush money’ to them.”

He said if law enforcement does not or cannot act to protect children “whistleblowers in churches should call journalists.”

“More wrongdoing in churches needs to be reported more often to more people who are more apt to stop it and prevent future wrongdoing,” Clohessy said.

“We hope every Baptist rejects this self-serving, unhealthy and often dangerous advice, especially when it comes to sexual and financial crimes, whether known or suspected,” he said.

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SBC leader says don't talk to press