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Local Southern Baptist Church part of national lawsuit for alleged cover ups of sexual abuses

FOUNTAIN, Colo. (KRDO) - A national lawsuit claims the Southern Baptist Convention covered up decades of abuse by its pastors and employees, including one case here in Southern Colorado. 

The lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court in Tennessee, includes six alleged victims of abuse by pastors or employees at Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches across the country, from Illinois to Alabama. These allegations go back decades but are finally coming to light after years of cover-up by the SBC, the victims’ attorney said.

“There is a window of opportunity to bring this case that has been repressed for decades,” said Hunter Shkolnik, the attorney representing the alleged victims.

One of the victims was a member of the Fountain Valley Baptist Church in Fountain, Colorado, back in the 1980s when she was a child. The lawsuit claims the pastor at the time, Charles Griffen, sexually abused her. The lawsuit said the abuse continued for five years, from the ages of 13 to 18, because SBC “maliciously and systematically engaged in covering up and concealing instances of sexual abuse by the church members and employees as a strategy of denying the rights of sexual abuse survivors.”

“The idea was you don't talk about it, you repress it,” Shkolnik said. “You keep the young people quiet. You don't acknowledge it and you deny, deny, deny. That's what happened here.”

The lawsuit refers to a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, as well as an independent investigation by Guidepost Solutions in 2022. Both investigations uncovered widespread sexual abuse and a system to suppress victims.

The lawsuit said there have been 200 criminal cases and 700 victims over 20 years involving people who worked or volunteered at Southern Baptist churches. The lawsuit claimed registered sex offenders were allowed to stay at churches.

For years, these abuses remained a secret within the organization with churches not disclosing complaints to law enforcement, “shunning victims” and “urging victims to forgive abusers in an effort to conceal the abuse,” according to the lawsuit.

The internal investigation of SBC found “survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its policy regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.”

“Their goal was to stay in power, stay in control,” Shkolnik said. “Even if they heard about these problems, brush it under the rug and make no one talk about it and just worry about one thing, keeping the institution viable.”

The lawsuit said the Fountain victim has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress reactions, an inability to form close personal relationships with men, and an inability to maintain gainful employment, due to the alleged abuse.

The lawsuit asks for $10 million in damages, and Shkolnik said the victims want SBC to change and not allow any more abuses to be swept under the rug.

Robert Tallman is the current pastor at Fountain Valley Baptist Church. He said he wasn’t around during these alleged abuses more than 40 years ago, but wishes he could go back and keep it from happening.

“We can't change the past,” Tallman said. “We wish we could go back 10, 20, 30, 40 years and change the past, but we can't. But we can be responsible for our actions today.”

He said his church has policies in place to ensure more abuse doesn’t happen, including background checks for every adult who works with children and a reporting policy with law enforcement for anyone who says they have been abused or feel unsafe.

“We want to be a place where people can trust that we will always, to the best of our ability, provide care and support and do the right thing,” Tallman said.

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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