Pastor Sex Abuse Lawsuit Settled Out of Court

This story courtesy of the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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By Donna Fielder

Two years after a woman filed a damage suit alleging Bolivar Baptist Church pastor Dale “Dickie” Amyx molested her as a 14-year-old and impregnated her when she was 18, the suit has been settled out of court.

Debbie Vasquez, now 47, sued Amyx and the church in June 2006, alleging that he began having sex with her when he was 28 years old, married and the youth pastor of a now-defunct Lewisville church, Calvary Baptist. According to the court documents, he continued having sex with her after he was pastor of the Bolivar church by threatening her with guns and knives.

The Denton Record-Chronicle traditionally does not name victims of sexual assault, particularly children. But Vasquez requested that she be identified to shine a light on the issue of clergy sexual misconduct. Coming forward with the story, which she hid for many years until it was too late to press criminal charges, was part of her healing process, she said.

She dropped the suit as part of a settlement agreement, she said, that included a written apology from Amyx and a cash payment.

“I made it clear in the beginning that I would sign no papers that limited me from talking or disclosing what happened. I had wanted this to go to court,” Vasquez said. “But my attorney told me to settle.”

Vasquez said the suit had dragged on so long that a time deadline was looming, and she and her attorney agreed to the settlement before time ran out.

The settlement, according to a document provided to Vasquez by her attorney, included a $22,500 payment. The document showed $15,000 came from Amyx and $7,500 came from the church. After payment to the attorney and court costs, Vasquez realized $9,659.38.

The suit was never was about money, Vasquez insists. It was the only venue left to illuminate a problem she believes is very prevalent among clergy — especially Baptists, who are not governed by a central church hierarchy.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas keeps a confidential list of clergy who have been found by their churches to have conducted themselves in an unethical way. But only a church can add to the list, and it is not made public.

Vasquez said she asked the church to report Amyx to the general convention as part of the settlement but was refused. She provided a letter from Brian Cartwright, Bolivar Baptist Church’s attorney, that spoke of “non-monetary conditions” and Cartwright wrote that he could not advise his client, the church, to agree to them.

“It is my opinion that allowing a non-member to dictate church policy would be in violation of the church bylaws and its method of government,” the letter stated.

Vasquez has joined a group called Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which is trying to convince the convention to change that policy.

“I tried to tell Sanger police about another young girl he was telling me about that I was afraid was going to be abused,” she said. “But I didn’t have a name, and they said there was nothing they could do.”

Amyx remains on paid leave from the church pulpit and said in a telephone interview he does not know what will happen next as far as his employment.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” Amyx said. “It should have never happened.”

The suit contended that the church “knew or should have known” about the pastor’s sexual relationship outside his marriage when he was hired. But in February, 367th District Judge Lee Gabriel separated the two defendants in the suit and signed a “summary judgment” that effectively dismissed the church from any wrongdoing.

Cartwright confirmed the outcome of the suit but declined comment on it and would not discuss Amyx’s relationship with the church now. “All I can say is, it’s been resolved,” Cartwright said.

The Amyx family phone number is listed in the current Yellow Book as the church parsonage.

No one answered the telephone at the church during repeated calls.

Amyx’s wife, Melinda Amyx, said her husband was put on paid administrative leave in January 2007, a few weeks after a story appeared about the case in the Record-Chronicle. He has not preached a sermon at the church since then, she said, but he continues to be paid as pastor and they continue to be members. She teaches Sunday School and plays piano for the church.

“We’re just glad to have it resolved at last,” she said.

Christa Brown, an Austin lawyer, is a clergy sexual abuse survivor and an activist for victims of Baptist clergy abuse. She took an interest in the Vasquez case.

“The saddest thing about Debbie’s case is that, before she ever filed a lawsuit, she tried so hard to get help from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and no one would do anything,” she said via e-mail. “Now, here we are two years later, and Debbie has been dragged through hell in her efforts to try to expose the truth about this man and to protect others.”

The Baptist General Convention of Texas keeps the file confidential and will answer inquiries of other churches about whether a prospective pastor is on the list.

“But most churches are like Bolivar,” Brown said. “When confronted with evidence about sexual abuse committed by a beloved pastor, they find ways to rationalize, excuse, minimize and deny, and they don’t report him,” she said. “So, despite the evidence — Amyx’s sworn deposition statements, Amyx’s apology letter, the paternity judgment, and Debbie’s own testimony — it does not appear that the Baptist General Convention of Texas will add Amyx’s name to its file of Baptist ministers who have committed sexual abuse. Why? Because the BGCT doesn’t accept abuse reports from mere victims, and because the church won’t report him. It’s a dysfunctional system that doesn’t work to protect others.”

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