Leaders of the largest Protestant denomination in the US say the authorities have started an inquiry into sexual abuse by its clergy.
Lawyers for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) said they would co-operate with the investigation “fully and completely”.
A report in May said the SBC had covered up the abuse and vilified survivors.
The SBC has 13 million members and is heavily concentrated in the US south.
The department of justice has sent subpoenas to the Church’s executive committee, its lawyers said.
SBC leaders said the investigation centred on widespread sexual abuse problems highlighted by May’s report – a result of an investigation carried out for the SBC by an outside firm.
“Individually and collectively each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” they said in a statement.
“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 SBC’s own investigation was launched in the wake of 2019 report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News that exposed hundreds of alleged cases of sex abuse within the church.
The 288-page report named a few senior leaders on the Church’s executive committee who had control over its response to the reports of abuse and were “singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC”.
These officials reportedly “protected or even supported alleged abusers”, the report said.
Calls and emails from survivors or other concerned Southern Baptists would be “ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action” because of how the church functions, the report stated.
It made a series of recommendations, including creating an independent commission that would oversee reforms in the handling of sexual misconduct, and restricting the use of non-disclosure agreements and civil settlements by the accused.
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