The Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention and its entities on the heels of an explosive report that detailed the mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse by church leaders, the SBC said in a statement Friday.
The report in May by a third-party firm, Guidepost Solutions, also said church leaders intimidated victims and their advocates and resisted attempts at reform over the course of two decades.
“Survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action,” the report found, “even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.”
The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with an estimated 14 million members across more than 47,000 churches.
In its statement Friday, the SBC Executive Committee said it had been recently made aware of the DOJ investigation and that it would fully cooperate.
“While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future,” the statement said.
“We recognize our reform efforts are not finished. In fact, those efforts are continuing this very moment as the recently announced Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force begins its work and as each entity has strengthened its efforts to protect against abuse,” the statement said.
CNN reached out to the Middle District of Tennessee US Attorney’s Office and was told via email “we cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.”
The SBC is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.
In June, the SBC approved two reform measures to address how it deals with sexual abuse allegations within its churches.
One created a “Ministry Check” website, which would maintain a record of SBC “pastors, denominational workers, ministry employees, and volunteers who have at any time been credibly accused of sexual abuse,” according to the Baptist Press, the SBC’s news service.
The measure defines “credibly accused” as a “pastor, denominational worker, or ministry employee or volunteer … who has confessed to sexual abuse in a non-privileged setting, who has been convicted in a court of law, or who has had a civil judgment rendered against them,” the news service reported.
Under another measure, an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force would be created to examine SBC’s response to sexual abuse allegations and “serve as a resource in abuse prevention, crisis response, and survivor care.”