"If you have been victimized by a church leader, we are profoundly sorry. We, the church, have failed you," he said.
"There can simply be no ambiguity about the church's responsibility to protect the abused and be a safe place for the vulnerable," he added in a blog post on the site. The post also included six steps for getting help in the case of sexual abuse, including an affirmation that abuse is not the victim's fault, and links to abuse hotlines and Christian counseling websites.
Yet the SBC has rejected proposals for a sex offender registry that churches can reference before hiring leaders or volunteers, because, as church leaders told the Texas newspapers, enforcement would be impossible due to local church autonomy.
In an essay about the abuse scandal published on his website, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, proposed that SBC congregations undergo independent, third-party investigations.
"In light of this report and the nature of sexual abuse, an independent, third-party investigation is the only credible avenue for any organizations that face the kind of sinful patterns unearthed in this article by the Houston Chronicle," he wrote. "No Christian body, church, or denomination can investigate itself on these terms because such an investigation requires a high level of thoroughness and trustworthiness. Only a third-party investigator can provide that kind of objective analysis."
Mohler lamented that "the SBC ecclesial structure directly contrasts with the edifice of the Roman Catholic Church," making reforms difficult to enforce. SBC churches are united only by "friendly cooperation with and contributing to the causes of the Southern Baptist Convention," he noted.
"This report from the Houston Chronicle, however, magnifies the need for a mechanism that identifies convicted and documented sexual abusers who may be considered for positions of leadership within the churches," he wrote.
Mohler recalled that in the past, the SBC has made reforms and "excised" churches that did not conform to those, and were thus no longer in "friendly cooperation" with the SBC. For example, he noted, churches that affirm homosexuality are now no longer considered in cooperation with the SBC, nor are churches with demonstrated racism.
In addition to using the civil safeguards already in place, such as reporting abuse accusations and referencing sex offender registries, Mohler suggested the SBC similarly "excise" those churches that tolerate and harbor abusers.
"Now, it might be that this crisis will foster a new criterion of vital importance for the churches of the SBC – a church that would willingly and knowingly harbor sexual abuse and sexual abusers should not be considered in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention," he said. This would not compromise church autonomy, he said, but would still allow the SBC to determine which churches are in cooperation with it.
Mohlen also condemned the "lackadaisical ordination" of ministers by local churches, and urged all churches to take responsibility for the men they make ministers.
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"The trauma of this story bears tremendous anguish and heartbreak. The SBC and all who love this denomination must pray for faithfulness on this vital issue – our usefulness for the kingdom of Christ hinges on our response to this horrifying reality," he added.
"To be sure, there must be heartbreak and concern – that is a place to start, but work must be done. A long road lies ahead. For the church, for the gospel, for the glory of God, we must meet this challenge with fullness of conviction and fidelity to Jesus Christ."