Monday, May 20, 2013

Maryland Judges Dismisses Most of Abuse Lawsuit Against SGM; Criminal Investigation Continues

Posted by Christine Pack

Most of the class-action lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries, in which rampant sexual abuse was allegedly committed against children, has now been dismissed by a Maryland judge. From the Courier-Journal:
"Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Sharon V. Burrell ruled Thursday that nine of 11 plaintiffs waited too long to sue under the statute of limitations, which in Maryland would mean within three years of their turning 18.......Two other plaintiffs are under 21, but Burrell dismissed their claims as well because they center on alleged abuse in Virginia. Update: Burrell’s dismissed those two 'without prejudice,' meaning they have the option of re-filing." (source)
Attorney Susan Burke, legal counsel on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case, released a statement in response to the dismissal. From the statement:
"We (the victims and the lawyers) all knew about the statute issue at the outset.  But fighting for justice means doing so even against known obstacles.  We had a conspiracy theory to overcome the statute but the Court rejected it.  The victims are all brave and courageous people whose willingness to fight against evil has already made a difference in the world.  Also, please realize going forward with a civil lawsuit does not in any way prevent criminal actions – perhaps may even make it more likely.  And please keep praying, as we think the Court erred, and will be appealing her ruling.  All the best, Susan L. Burke." (source)
Attorney Bill O'Neil, who is also legal counsel for the plaintiffs, gave a brief interview with the Janet Mefferd regarding this latest development in the SGM case. That interview can be listened to here.

As O'Neil stated in his interview with Mefferd, it was known at the outset that the age of many of the victims had long since passed the statue of limitations, which was the stated reason that the Maryland judge dismissed most of the charges. However, the legal team for the plaintiffs had still pursued this lawsuit because they had hoped that the allegations that SGM leadership had systematically pressured victims not to seek legal counsel or help outside of the church when sexual abuse situations were uncovered would have weighed more heavily into the judge's decision.

My thoughts: This is a frustrating development to me because SGM leaders apparently worked very hard over the years to convince the parents of victims NOT to go to the legal authorities over weeks...... and months...... and years. Susan Burke, lead attorney who worked with Bill O'Neil on this lawsuit, stated in an interview that parents of molestation victims told her that, when they discovered their children had been molested and went to their church leaders, they were told by the church leaders "not to call the police," but rather to let the church handle the abuse in an "in-house" way. And yet, when the victims eventually did seek legal counsel after exhausting all means of justice/resolution through the church channels (again, as directed by church leadership), they were then told, oh sorry, too late.

Also, because of the way this has been played out, it appears to me that the SGM leadership thought it vital to protect their own reputations, and the reputation of the SGM franchise, over protecting the helpless. This strikes me as the ultimate in prideful, wicked pragmatism. Not to mention that the Bible is full of verses that specifically speak to the importance of protecting children, as well as the weak and oppressed (Isa 1:17, Ps 82:3, Prov 31:9, Matt 18:6 just for starters).
"Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow." Isaiah 1:17 
"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed." Psalm 82:3 
"Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31:9 
"If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." Matthew 18:6
For those seeking more information about this ongoing court case, below are some interviews by Janet Mefferd documenting the progress of the SGM class action lawsuit:
10/18/2012 - Janet Mefferd Interviews Attorney Susan Burke About Lawsuit Against Sovereign Grace Ministries ("I don't know how long evangelicalism can ignore this problem.") 
5/16/13 - Janet Mefferd Interviews Attorney Bill O’Neil Again About the Sovereign Grace Ministries Lawsuit
5/20/13 - Janet Mefferd Interviews Bill O'Neil Regarding Latest Details About the SGM Child Sex Abuse Class Action Lawsuit
6/6/13 - Janet Mefferd Interviews Boz Tchividjian Regarding the Silence of Christian Leaders Over American Evangelicalism's Largest Sexual Scandal to Date
10/7/13 - Janet Mefferd Interviews Boz Tchividjian: Are Evangelical Christians Worse Than Catholics on Sexual Abuse Response? (References the SGM Child Sexual Abuse Scandal)

  Additional Resources  

The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch (The Washingtonian)

Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivors Website

Copy of Lawsuit Filed Against Sovereign Grace Ministries

SGM - Updated Statement on Reported Lawsuit

As Appeal Is Announced in Sovereign Grace Case, Joshua Harris Says He Was Abused As A Child

Joshua Harris Discusses Being Sexually Abused During Sunday Morning Sermon (25:10 marker)

Lawsuit Claims Sovereign Grace Ministries Concealed Sex Abuse

Flagship Churches Prepare To Leave As Lawsuit Charges C.J. Mahaney's Sovereign Grace Ministries With Covering Up Child Sex Abuse

Sovereign Grace Ministries: In Sex Abuse Case, Courts Shouldn't "Second Guess" SGM's Pastoral Counseling

SGM's C.J. Mahaney Gets Support From John Piper