Judge dismisses sexual assault claims against Southern Baptist leader

The judge dismissed the sexual assault claims, saying the state’s statute of limitations had run out.

Former Judge Paul Pressler, who played a leading role in wresting control of the Southern Baptist Convention from moderates in 1979, poses for a photo in his home in Houston on May 30, 2004. (AP Photo /Michael Stravato)

(RNS) — A Texas judge has dismissed all the major claims in a sexual assault lawsuit against one of the key figures in the Southern Baptist Convention conservative takeover.

Harris County District Court Judge R.K. Sandill found in favor of Paul Pressler, a layman and onetime Texas appeals court judge who in the late 1970s spearheaded a plan to oust moderates and liberals from the denomination, the nation’s largest Protestant group.

Sandill’s reasons for dismissing the sexual assault claims were simple: The state’s statute of limitations on sexual abuse had run out.

He allowed a claim of libel and slander and conspiracy to commit libel and slander to stand, as well as a claim of breach of contract. In all, five of the eight claims were dismissed.

Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. filed the suit last year, accusing Pressler of sexually abusing him since Rollins was 14 — abuse Rollins claims led to a lifetime addiction to drugs and alcohol and a long criminal record. Rollins’ suit also named Paige Patterson, an early ally of Pressler’s who was fired as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth earlier this year after a string of sexism allegations.

The suit claimed Patterson knew or should have known about Pressler’s sexual abuse. Also named in the suit were Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; the Southern Baptist Convention; First Baptist Church of Houston and Second Baptist Church of Houston; Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s former law partner; and Pressler’s wife, Nancy.

Pressler, who is 88, has denied all the allegations.

Meanwhile, two other men have accused Pressler in sworn affidavits of sexually abusing them, the Houston Chronicle reported. One of the men, Brooks Schott, suggested Pressler might have been harassing younger men as recently as 2016, the paper said.

In Rollins’ case, the sexual assault allegedly began in 1979, the same year Pressler and Patterson began to wrest control of the SBC and move it toward an inerrant view of the Bible.

Pressler invited the young Rollins to attend First Baptist Church in Houston, where Pressler taught a Bible study. The suit says Pressler told Rollins that he should consider the alleged rape “our secret, our freedom, no one but God would understand.”

Rollins later worked as a personal assistant to Pressler. When Rollins served time in prison, Pressler wrote letters to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles urging that Rollins be released on parole.

In 2004, Pressler settled a lawsuit with Rollins, agreeing to pay him $234,000 over 13 years. Pressler has stopped the monthly payments to Rollins, hence the breach of contract claim that remains. The libel and slander claims relate to public statements made about Rollins by Woodfill.

Pressler, reached in his Houston home, referred a reporter to his lawyer, Edward Tredennick, who could not be reached for comment.

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