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Houston’s First Baptist responds to claims in Pressler case

HOUSTON (BP) — Houston’s First Baptist Church responded to claims that they did not appropriately address accusations of sexual impropriety by then-deacon Paul Pressler in 2004.

The statement came in response to a Texas Tribune article concerning a recently-released deposition by Jared Woodfill, a longtime legal partner of Pressler’s, in conjunction with an ongoing lawsuit against the former judge over accusations of sexual abuse.

Woodfill also represented Pressler in a separate 2004 lawsuit filed by Duane Rollins where Rollins had been injured in an incident in a Dallas hotel room in 2003.

Rollins, also the plaintiff in the ongoing lawsuit, claims that he was in middle school when Pressler, then in his 40s, first molested him. Pressler allegedly continued to rape Rollins “over the course of the next 24 years or so,” the latter claimed in an affidavit.

Documents associated with the 2004 lawsuit include an affidavit by a young man who was hired through Woodfill’s law firm to serve as Pressler’s assistant. Accusations from the young man prompted leaders at Houston’s First Baptist Church to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by Pressler, who was serving as a deacon in the church at the time.

The Texas Tribune reported this week that in 2004 church leaders were informed of the incident and considered the behavior “morally and spiritually inappropriate.” Other than warning Pressler, the church “took no further action.”

Barry Flynn, the church’s attorney, took exception to the Texas Tribune’s characterization of the church’s response and noted that the church first learned of Rollins’ accusations of molestation and rape when the 2017 lawsuit was filed.

“Houston’s First Baptist was not aware of any claims or incidences or any alleged inappropriate behavior by Paul Pressler before summer 2004 when it first received notice of the affidavit described in the article,” he told Baptist Press.

Upon learning of the incident in 2004, “the church immediately acted and appointed a committee of three independent deacons. The committee met with the person making the affidavit on at least two occasions and with Paul Pressler. The committee then acted promptly. They did hear two different sides of the story. They did take action.

“Paul Pressler’s position as a teacher was eliminated immediately. His role as a deacon was lowered to the lowest stature possible as a deacon. And he was eliminated from any committees of the church.”

From that point forward, Flynn said, Houston’s First Baptist “heard little” of Pressler for nearly 2 ½ years until he moved his membership to Second Baptist Church in Houston.

Flynn said the church did not contact Second Baptist because, “Over three years’ time had passed since the August 2004 letter had been sent and FBC was not told at what point the Presslers had started attending Second Baptist.”

He also noted that, “Pressler did not teach a youth Sunday School class or lead any youth groups while at FBC.”

The young man who contacted the church in 2004 was in his mid-to-late 20s at the time of the incident, Flynn said. Pressler was almost 74. Such a dynamic would not have required HFBC to make a report to the police. 

“Houston’s First has worked very hard to put in place measures to protect children and youth from any type of threatening behavior and we are always refining those measures,” Flynn said.