Southwestern Seminary responds to sexual abuse lawsuit

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Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary BP/Special

By Diana Chandler

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is committed to protecting survivors of abuse and being a safe place for the vulnerable, SWBTS President Adam W. Greenway said in response to a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleges being raped by a fellow student.

“While we cannot address issues in ongoing litigation, it is important that the Southwestern Seminary community know that we take these matters seriously and are committed to our campus being a safe place for the vulnerable and for survivors of abuse,” Greenway told Baptist Press June 24. Both Southwestern Seminary and former SWBTS President Paige Patterson are named as defendants.

“As I said in my report at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, I realize in a Genesis 3 world that there may be times when our seminary may fall short of expectations,” Greenway told BP. “In any and every area where this has been the case, I am sorry. It is my resolve for our seminary to do better.”

Greenway responded to a personal injury lawsuit that alleges “Jane Roe” was forcibly raped at gunpoint on at least three occasions from October 2014 through April 2015 by a fellow student with an extensive criminal history who also was employed as an SWBTS plumber.

Allegations of intimidation

Roe alleges neither Patterson nor SWBTS sought to protect her when she reported her abuse. Instead, the suit claims, Patterson in particular intimidated Roe, disparaged her, and told her being raped was “a good thing,” “because the right man would not care if she was a virgin or not.” Also, the lawsuit claims, SWBTS had no system in place to prevent and address the sexual assault of students.

The lawsuit was unsealed June 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Sherman.

Roe’s attorney, Sheila P. Haddock of San Diego, California, told BP the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct constrain all parties involved from commenting on the case. Her client hopes to avoid further traumatization and to maintain privacy by pursuing the case as “Jane Roe,” Haddock said.

“What I can say is this: Jane Roe is an extremely courageous young woman who is still struggling to put the pieces of her life together,” Haddock told BP, “to build a future for herself and to find her voice. This case is a step forward for her on this journey.” Roe is seeking a jury trial and monetary damages currently unspecified.

Patterson unable to be reached for comment

Baptist Press was unable to reach Patterson for comment by deadline. Attorney Shelby Sharpe, who has represented Patterson in the past, said Patterson has been out of the country and likely has not been served the summons. In previous statements, Patterson has denied accusations related to mishandling reports of abuse.

The SWBTS Board of Trustees fired Patterson in May 2018 “regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

The case was originally filed March 11 under the plaintiff’s official name, but was refiled May 22 after the court granted use of the pseudonym Jane Roe, according to court documents available online. Summonses to SWBTS and Patterson to inform them of the lawsuit are dated June 18 and allow 21 days from the date of service for replies.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.

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