BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A prominent Southern Baptist pastor is defending his church against charges that it did not correctly handle a sexual abuse allegation against a staff member.
“We are an imperfect church with imperfect people,” Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Texas, told a group of Southern Baptists at their annual convention Tuesday.
“I make mistakes. I am painfully aware of my limitations, of the weaknesses of the Village Church, of our failures. They are numerous. I don’t think I’m naïve to that. But when it comes to reporting as soon as we had heard, taking our cues from the detective and family, I’m not sure what we could have done different.”
Chandler and the Village Church are under fire for how they handled a case of sexual abuse.
On Monday, The New York Times published an article featuring Christi Bragg, whose daughter was molested by an associate children’s minister at the church.
In the article, Bragg criticized the way Chandler and his church handled the allegations, saying she believed they were trying to protect the church more than her daughter.
Matthew Tonne, the former associate children’s minister, has since been arrested and charged.
Chandler declined repeated requests for an interview with The New York Times and the church did not answer detailed questions, according to the article, although they did provide the newspaper with a statement.
‘We did the best we could’
Pastor’s network Baptist21 announced Monday that Chandler would leave his sabbatical to address the article at a lunch event at the convention in Birmingham, where issues of sexual abuse are dominating the discussion.
The author of the New York Times investigation tweeted that she would be in the room to hear Chandler Tuesday.
There, Chandler defended the church’s actions. “We just did the best we could” to care for a victim of sexual abuse and her family, Chandler said during the panel discussion.
He said they took their cue from police when it came to not releasing Tonne’s name.
“As I’ve seen some of the criticism of how we’ve operated here, the primary criticism seems to be that we should’ve released the name, but I’m not quite sure how that conversation was supposed to go,” Chandler said.
In the article, Bragg lays out other concerns: that the Village never took responsibility for her daughter’s abuse, that they offered dates weeks or months in the future when she asked for meetings, that they never thoroughly informed families in the congregation and that she never had a conversation with Chandler.
Even when the case became public and charges were listed online, the church still did not name Tonne, according to the article.
‘Common errors’ made by Chandler’s church
On a Monday night panel on sexual abuse, survivor Rachel Denhollander used the church’s actions as examples of “common errors.”
Denhollander was the first of USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar’s victims to come forward.
“It was reported to the police, which was a very positive step, but then they made a very critical mistake, and their critical mistake was when they announced to the church what had happened, they did not identify the abuser, they did not identify the exact type of crime that had occurred, and they stated that the person had no access to children in the Village Church, without informing the congregation that they had been on staff and did have access up to that point to children in the church,” Denhollander said.
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[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Katherine Burgess and originally published at the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Title changed by P&P.]
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