Court allows abuse case against former Baptist leader
Texas judges rule in favor of one of Paul Pressler’s accusers
Until 2019, a stained-glass image of Paul Pressler adorned the MacGorman Chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. The former Texas state judge was honored alongside other Southern Baptist Convention leaders for his role in the conservative resurgence within the denomination in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 2017, Gareld Duane Rollins, Jr., filed a lawsuit against Pressler, alleging he raped and molested him for 24 years, beginning in 1980 when he was in high school. The two met when Rollins was 14 and attended a Bible study Pressler was leading. Rollins said he once worked in Pressler’s home as his assistant.
On Feb. 25, a Texas appeals court ruled that Rollins’ case against Pressler and other defendants, including the SBC, could proceed. A lower court had dismissed the lawsuit, ruling it exceeded the five-year statute of limitations.
Rollins’ attorney argued the statute did not apply because his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and memory repression as a result of the abuse, making it impossible for him to sue in a timely manner. Rollins struggled with alcohol and drug addiction and said he did not understand his relationship with Pressler was non-consensual until he received psychiatric counseling during a prison sentence in 2015.
Two other men, Toby Twining and Brooks Schott, accused Pressler of sexual misconduct in court affidavits filed as part of Rollins’ 2017 suit. A 2018 Houston Chronicle report detailing widespread sexual abuse within the SBC included Twining’s and Schott’s stories.
Pressler, now 90, has denied wrongdoing. His attorney, Ted Tredennick, called the appellate court ruling disappointing and said Pressler’s legal team is determining its next steps. In a brief filed with the appellate court, Tredennick argued Rollins’ claims of trauma and mental health problems did not satisfy the legal requirements to ignore the statute of limitations, but the appellate judges disagreed.
In 2003, Rollins sued Pressler for physical assault after the two men had a disagreement in a Dallas hotel room. In 2004, according to court documents, the last time the two men saw each other, they reached a settlement in which Pressler agreed to pay Rollins $1,500 a month for 25 years—totaling $450,000—if he agreed to keep the altercation and the settlement confidential.
The SBC did not know about the settlement until 2017, according to James P. Guenther, attorney for the convention. Pressler was a member of the SBC executive committee from 1984 to 1991. Rollins alleges the convention and other defendants had a duty to protect him from the abuse and failed. He argues Pressler’s church and co-leaders in the SBC, including former convention President Paige Patterson, acted as though Pressler was unable to sin and gave him a carte blanche to spend one-on-one time with teenage boys, enabling his abuse even if they didn’t know about it.
The SBC denies any involvement with Rollins and said it “did not have control over or duty to control” Pressler. “[None] of the facts necessary to assert any valid claim against the convention is present,” Guenther said. “The convention is simply not responsible if another defendant in this case engaged in any wrongdoing. … In any event, we continue to monitor the developments in this case.”
In 2019, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary removed the stained-glass display including Pressler and his wife Nancy’s images along with Paige Patterson, the seminary’s former president who was fired a year prior over mishandling of sexual abuse accusations. That same year, the denomination adopted a resolution condemning sex abuse and appointing a special committee to investigate sex abuse claims and hold churches accountable. On Feb. 23, the denomination disfellowshipped two churches for employing pastors who were convicted of sex offenses.
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