The lawsuit closes years of litigation against the S.B.C. and one of its most prominent–and controversial–leaders. However, details of the agreement have yet to be released.
The Southern Baptist Convention has settled a lawsuit alleging that Paul Pressler, among the organization’s most prominent leaders, was a prolific sexual predator who abused churchgoers for decades.
According to The Tennessean, the lawsuit was filed in 2017 on behalf of Duane Rollins. In his complaint, Rollins accused Pressler—a Southern Baptist figure and a former Texas judge—of repeated sexual assaults.
The settlement, writes The Tennessean, represents a partial conclusion to Rollins’ case, which sought to hold multiple defendants liable for abuse. Several of the defendants had earlier settled with Rollins, while others—including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, Pressler, and the First Baptist Church Houston—were scheduled to go to trial this past October.
Although the trial was delayed at Rollins’ request, attorneys for both parties recently moved to see the case dismissed with prejudice.
“The Southern Baptist Convention and its Executive Committee were each fully prepared to proceed to trial. However, several factors ultimately made settlement the more prudent choice,” attorneys for the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee said in a statement. “Chief among those factors was the horrendous nature of the abuse allegations, the likelihood that counsel for the SBC and Executive Committee would have to confront and cross-examine abuse survivors, the Executive Committee’s current financial condition, and the willingness of multiple insurance carriers to contribute to the terms of the settlement.”
Edward Tredennick, attorney for Presler, declined to comment, saying only that the matter has been resolved.
“The parties have resolved this matter on mutually satisfactory terms,” Tredennick said.
Attorneys for Rollins had earlier said that Pressler and other Baptist-related defendants had tried—and largely succeeded—in keeping the case out of court.
“Despite the Defendants’ successful attempts to delay this case within this Court for years, this Lawsuit has nonetheless been extremely impactful outside the courtroom,” Rollins’ legal team said in a July filing.
“When it came to sexual abuse, the conservatives of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s adopted a clear policy of institutional silence that had the effect of enabling abusers and discouraging or even blaming victims,” they said. “Rollins was one of hundreds of victims of that system.”
In his lawsuit, Rollins alleged that he endured decades of abuse at the hands of Pressler, with the first rape purportedly occurring when Rollins was only 14 years old.
Evidence from Rollins’ claim, including letters between church leaders and legal depositions, suggested that the Southern Baptist Convention had been aware that there was an outstanding misconduct complaint against Pressler, yet failed to either initiate a thorough investigation or transmit concerns to the churches Pressler served.
“Pressler was a sheep in wolf’s clothing,” the lawsuit said. “Rollins and others suffered severely not only because of the actions of this one man but because of those that empowered him, concealed him, and kept his behavior from being ‘brought to light.’”