A Baptist church in South Carolina settled a child sexual abuse lawsuit, agreeing to issue an apology, admit liability, and to pay $300,000 to the plaintiff.
Bryan Barnes, spokesman for First Baptist Church of Columbia, S.C., said that church leadership issued the apology and explained the terms of the settlement before the congregation on Sunday, according to the Baptist Press. The case involved a boy identified only as “Joel Doe” who alleged that Andrew McCraw, a volunteer in the church’s youth ministry, engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with him when he was between the ages of 11 and 16.
“Today, we want to offer an apology for the inappropriate and unacceptable conduct this young man endured and express regret for what we failed to do to prevent it,” church leaders said, according to the outlet.
“No student should have to experience what this young man endured,” the church’s statement added.
Doe filed the lawsuit in October 2017 through his parents against First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Wendell Estep, and McCraw. The lawsuit alleged that McCraw initiated a relationship with Doe as a young adult mentor in a church youth program, but the relationship progressed in intimacy to inappropriate touching and sleepovers at McCraw’s house with no other adults or youths present.
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The lawsuit also lists several sexually explicit text messages that McCraw sent to the boy, such as “Be there in 10. Have the lube ready,” and “Hey, anything to get that *** in a swimsuit.” Doe and his parents alleged that McCraw sometimes sent dozens of such messages to him a day.
Doe was 11 when McCraw began the abuse and was 16 by the time he alerted his parents to the inappropriate behavior.
Church leadership initially issued a rebuttal against specific allegations within the lawsuit. Church leadership contested the claims they knew about the relationship between Doe and McCraw before law enforcement started investigating McCraw.
They also contested that they knew McCraw spent time alone with the youth away from church property, and that the case was part of a church conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse. The case was one facet of a cover-up conspiracy, the lawsuit alleged, related to former First Baptist deacon John Hubner, who in 2002 was sentenced to 36 years in prison for sexually abusing an underage girl.
Church leadership also argued that “any injuries or damages sustained by the Plaintiff (Joel Doe and his parents ) were due to his own negligent, careless, reckless and grossly negligent acts or omissions.”
First Baptist leadership confronted McCraw after learning of the allegations of sexual abuse against him and terminated his involvement with the church.
Doe and his parents subsequently amended their lawsuit with added allegations that the church chose not to report McCraw to the police to avoid a public scandal and that they failed to notify the next church in which he served of his sexually predatory behavior.
The church has now, according to the terms of the settlement, accepted responsibility for the entire situation, and stated that even though they “had strong policies in place” and subjected McCraw to a background check before allowing him to serve. Leadership said they will reevaluate their youth protection policies and strengthen them where necessary, especially with regard to adults texting church youths.
Doe, his parents, and the church have buried the hatchet, but the youth and his parents will proceed with their lawsuit against McCraw.
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