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Southern Baptist president says sexual abuse rumors were ‘always out there’

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ed Litton, said the damning independent investigative report on sex abuse allegations is "long overdue."

"The rumors were always out there that these things were happening," Litton said on ABC News Live on Tuesday. "There were several attempts made at our convention meetings to bring this to light. But they were very successfully pushed down."

The report, conducted by Guidepost Solutions, an independent firm contracted by the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, found the denomination's top leaders ignored sexual abuse allegations and disparaged survivors for more than two decades.

In a 288-page report, investigators found that survivors and concerned Southern Baptists continuously shared allegations with the executive committee “only to be met, time and time again, with resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC."

Sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches was spotlighted in 2019 by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News in a report that documented hundreds of cases. Several of the accused perpetrators remained in ministry.

Following the report, thousands of delegates voted overwhelmingly to create a task force charged with overseeing the third-party review.

Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, appointed the panel.

"We had to go through an arduous process of removing all legal barriers so that that investigation would be thorough and complete," Litton told ABC News. "I believe what we have is a revealing -- a very rare revealing -- from the grassroots Southern Baptists to say what's really going on here."

The report found that SBC leaders were concerned about church liability and its reputation and ignored concerns "even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation."

Now, Litton and church leaders must figure out how to implement the recommendations from Guidepost.

He said leaders plan to convene at the SBC’s annual meeting in Anaheim, California in June, present solutions to the body for a vote, and address how to make the necessary systemic changes.

Investigators recommend creating and maintaining an "Offender Information System" to alert the community to known offenders, as well as providing a "Resource Toolbox including protocols, training, education, and practical information."

They also recommend restricting nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements, which bind survivors to confidentiality.

"The question is: how will we respond to that reality and what will we do to change the culture of Southern Baptist?" Litton said.

He said churchgoers are shocked, angry and hurt.

"The scripture is very clear on this," Litton said. "Jesus said that what's whispered in the backroom will be shouted from the rooftop. What sits in darkness will be revealed in the light. And so this is where we're at, at this moment."

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