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Texas Supreme Court Ruling on Former SBC Leader Paul Pressler Opens Doors for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits

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Paul Pressler endorses Ted Cruz for president in October 2015. Screenshot from YouTube / @Ted Cruz

Thanks to a ruling last week by the Texas Supreme Court, a high-profile sexual abuse lawsuit involving a prominent Southern Baptist figure will be permitted to continue. The court determined that Duane Rollins’ civil case against Paul Pressler may proceed, even though the five-year statute of limitations has passed.

Paul Pressler Faces Abuse Lawsuit

Rollins is suing Paul Pressler, a former youth leader and Texas Appeals Court judge, who denies the charges and argues they are coming too late. Pressler, 91, helped lead the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention and publicly endorsed Ted Cruz for president in 2015.

Rollins, a former assistant to Pressler, claims Pressler sexually abused him for years. Rollins says he turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with the trauma, which led to crime and a prison sentence. While incarcerated, he received counseling and realized he had been victimized. Rollins’ attorney has argued that the statute of limitations should begin when the assault is realized, not when it occurred.

According to court documents, Rollins and Pressler had “an altercation in a Dallas hotel room” in 2003 that led to an assault lawsuit, which was settled. As part of that $450,000 settlement, Pressler agreed to pay Rollins $1,500 per month for 25 years.

Pressler attended First Baptist Church in Houston from 1978 to 2007, and church attorney Barry Flynn tells WORLD Magazine the congregation learned of alleged “inappropriate behavior” by Pressler in 2004. “At that time, there was nothing for us to do,” says Flynn. “There were no claims against First Baptist Church. The claims were against Paul Pressler, not against us.” Pressler wasn’t a church employee or deacon.

In 1989, Pressler declined a presidential appointment from President George H.W. Bush. Pressler’s critics said “ethics problems” allegedly emerged during his FBI background check. Former SBC president Paige Patterson, a friend of Pressler’s, was reportedly aware of an allegation of “homosexual behavior” against the judge but denied its veracity. Patterson was fired as a Baptist seminary president, in part for mishandling sexual abuse claims.

A Win for Sexual Abuse Survivors

According to the Houston Chronicle, which reported in 2019 about widespread sexual abuse within the SBC, last week’s ruling “opens the door in Texas for people who were sexually abused as children to sue both attackers and institutions that mishandled or concealed the abuses years or decades later.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance writer and editor in Denver, has spent her entire 30-year journalism career in Christian publishing. She loves the Word and words, is a binge reader and grammar nut, and is fanatic (as her family can attest) about Jeopardy! and pro football.