Southern Baptist Convention settles Paul Pressler sexual abuse lawsuit

A big deal.

The Southern Baptist Convention and others have reached a confidential settlement in a high-profile lawsuit that accused a former leader of sexual assault, ending a six-year legal drama that helped prompt a broader reckoning over child sexual abuse in evangelical churches, expanded victims’ rights in Texas and showed that a prominent conservative activist and Texas House candidate repeatedly downplayed abuse allegations.

In 2017, Duane Rollins filed the lawsuit accusing Paul Pressler, a longtime Southern Baptist figure and former Texas judge, of decades of rape beginning when Rollins was a 14-year-old member of Pressler’s church youth group in Houston.

Rollins claimed in court documents that the alleged attacks pushed him into drug and alcohol addictions that kept him in prison throughout much of his adult life. After disclosing the alleged rapes to a prison psychiatrist, Rollins filed the suit in Harris County against Pressler along with other defendants who he accused of enabling or concealing Pressler’s behavior — including the Southern Baptist Convention and Jared Woodfill, the former chair of the Harris County GOP and Pressler’s longtime law partner.

Rollins’ claims were a key impetus for “Abuse of Faith,” a 2019 investigation by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News into sexual abuse in the SBC, the nation’s second-largest faith group. The series led to major reforms in the SBC, revelations that top leaders had routinely ignored or downplayed warnings about a sexual abuse crisis, and an ongoing Department of Justice investigation.

As part of Rollins’ suit, at least seven other men came forward with their own allegations of sexual misconduct by Pressler in incidents spanning four decades. The suit also showed that Woodfill, a prominent anti-LGBTQ+ activist, was aware of allegations that Pressler was a sexual predator but continued to provide him with young, male personal assistants who worked out of Pressler’s River Oaks home. Three of the men have alleged sexual abuse or misconduct.

Woodfill is currently running for a Texas House seat against incumbent Rep. Lacey Hull, R-Houston, and has been endorsed by Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Pressler, 93, is one of the most influential evangelical figures of the last half-century, and is considered the co-architect of the SBC’s “conservative resurgence” that began in the late 1970s and prompted the faith group to adopt literal interpretations of the Bible, align more closely with the Republican Party, ban women from preaching and strongly condemn homosexuality.

Pressler — who formerly represented Houston in the Texas House and served for 14 years as a state appeals court judge — is also an influential figure in GOP politics. His endorsement has for years been sought by conservative evangelical politicians, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. In 1989, Pressler was nominated to lead the Office of Government Ethics under President George H.W. Bush, though the bid was later withdrawn; and Pressler is a founding member of Council for National Policy, a secretive network of conservative judges, politicians, media figures, megadonors and wealthy business owners that is currently led by Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBTQ+ Family Research Council.

Pressler denies the allegations and has not been criminally charged for any of the alleged abuses. An attorney for Pressler did not respond to a request for comment about the settlement, which is not public.

In a statement, legal representatives for the Southern Baptist Convention and its executive committee confirmed that they had “entered into a confidential settlement agreement” despite being “fully prepared” to proceed to a trial that was scheduled for February after being postponed twice this year.

“However, several factors ultimately made settlement the more prudent choice,” they wrote. “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.”

Michael Goldberg, who represented Rollins along with a team of lawyers from Baker Botts, said Friday that they had resolved the matter with Pressler on “mutually satisfactory terms,” and added that his team was “very proud of the settlement we reached against the Southern Baptist Convention and Jared Woodfill.”

Woodfill has denied wrongdoing and said this week that he has not settled the case, though a Harris County judge signed off on a motion last week that said “all claims, counterclaims and controversies” in the suit were resolved.

“We are fighting the insurance company and oppose any payment,” Woodfill said in a text message on Thursday.

See here for previous blog posts related to Pressler. One cannot overstate how big a scumbag Jared Woodfill is for his role in abetting Pressler and then going about his life as Jared Woodfill while doing so. Story author Robert Downen, who was also writing about this while he was at the Chron, has a Twitter thread that you can peruse if you just want the highlights. The Woodfill portion of this is as follows:

If we as Democrats are not hanging this around Jared Woodfill’s neck every day of this election cycle, and tying it to every other Republican who supports him, we are doing this wrong. The Chron has more.

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