The lawyer for Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson said he has “not found one credible” allegation against his client, including accusations that he told an alleged rape victim it was “good” she was raped and that he told another not to report what happened to police.
Patterson was fired from Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on May 30, with the chairman of the board of trustees releasing a statement condemning him for allegations of how he handled sexual assault reports. He had been pushed to the position of president emeritus the week before.
“I have not found one credible attack on Dr. Patterson that’s been put against him,” Patterson’s lawyer, Shelby Sharpe, said in an interview with the Star-Telegram. “I know where he stands on women. I know where he stands on abuse.”
The Southwestern chairman's statement said Patterson sent an email to the head of campus security asking to meet with an alleged rape victim alone to “break her down.” The rape report came in August 2015, and the woman withdrew voluntarily from the school because of how she was treated, her attorney said.
The attorney, Stuart Cochran of Dallas, told the Star-Telegram that Patterson called the student’s mother “nuts,” forced the woman and her family to raise their hands to speak during a meeting and said it was a “good thing” the student had been raped.
Sharpe said each of these allegations was taken out of context. He released a statement to that effect June 4.
Patterson, he said, was out of the country when the woman’s mother contacted him demanding to meet that night. He emailed his secretary to set up an appointment when he got back, calling the mother “nuts” in that email, Sharpe said. Patterson met with the alleged victim when he got back with others present, Sharpe said, because he does not meet with women alone. Campus police went to the alleged assailant’s home, found weapons and kicked him off campus.
“A week later, this lady sends him an email thanking him for the way he handled this very difficult situation,” Sharpe said.
The “break her down" email, he said, had nothing to do with the rape allegations. Sharpe declined to give on-the-record specifics of what the email actually involved, but said Patterson sent it five weeks after the report.
As for the woman’s attorney’s saying that Patterson said it was a “good thing” she was raped, Sharpe said: “Would he have said something like good can come out of a bad situation? He might have said that. But he would never abuse those words or anything like that.”
In a statement to the Star-Telegram, Cochran said he disagreed with "the characterization of these communications" by Sharpe.
"Most remarkably," he said, "neither Patterson nor his lawyer deny that Patterson made these statements, which are plainly antithetical to Southwestern Baptist seminary's purported stance against 'all abusive behavior.' "
The statement by the chairman of Southwestern’s board also focused on an allegation published in The Washington Post that Patterson discouraged a woman from reporting a rape to police in 2003 when he was president of North Carolina’s Southeastern Seminary. The woman, Megan Lively, has since gone public.
After Patterson was fired, Sharayah Colter, the wife of Patterson’s chief of staff when he was at Southwestern, released a 15-page memo containing correspondence between Lively and Patterson from Lively’s student file at Southeastern.
Colter said in a statement that she was given documents that “legal counsel deemed ready for publication.” Sharpe told the Star-Telegram he had never met Colter and has no idea how she got the documents.
Southeastern in North Carolina released a statement June 4 noting that it has begun an internal review and is looking for the documents to be returned. The seminary also noted that the documents from Lively’s file were under the protection of federal privacy laws.
“At this time there has been no evidence discovered that disputes or discredits our former student’s account,” Southeastern said in its statement.
The first problem for Patterson came in late April, when a recording from 2000 surfaced. In it, he told a woman to pray for her abusive marriage rather than divorce her husband. When he saw her praying, the husband ended up giving the woman two black eyes. That recording, Sharpe said, has been misconstrued.
“That woman had never been physically abused,” he said. “When it happened, that was the first time that it happened.”
However, in the recording, Patterson warns the woman: “Get ready because he may get a little more violent.” Sharpe said Patterson meant verbally violent.
Sharpe is working with Southwestern on restoring Patterson’s financial benefits, which were cut after the May 30 meeting.
The annual Southern Baptist Convention will be June 12-13 in Dallas. Patterson is scheduled to give a keynote address at the convention.
Anyone with additional information should contact reporter Sarah Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org