New Sex Abuse Allegation Surfaces Against Youth Pastor Who’s Being Sued with SBC

The Roys Report [Chicago IL]

September 19, 2023

By Liz Lykins

A youth pastor, who’s being sued along with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in a potentially precedent-setting sex abuse case, is facing a new allegation of sexual misconduct, dating back 16 years.

This allegation is contained in a police report filed this summer and obtained by The Roys Report (TRR). In the report, a woman claims that former youth pastor, Michael D’Attoma, groomed and solicited photos from her from 2007—2008. This is when D’Attoma worked as a youth pastor at Rural Chapel Methodist Church in Galena, Ohio.

From 2009—2012, D’Attoma was youth pastor at Northside Baptist Church in Lexington, S.C. And, as previously reported by TRR, two women, who were students in D’Attoma’s ministry at Northside Baptist, are suing D’Attoma for allegedly sexually abusing them during their time there.

The women are also suing Northside Baptist Church, as well as the SBC and the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC), which they claim created an atmosphere that allowed abuse. If successful, the lawsuit, filed last year, could be the first to hold the SBC responsible for the actions of one of its churches.

A judge recently denied a motion to dismiss the suit by all parties.

The police report with the new allegations against D’Attoma was filed in June of this year. It reports that a woman told police that between 2007-2008, when she was a teenager, D’Attoma groomed and solicited photos from her. The woman reportedly was a student in D’Attoma’s ministery at Rural Chapel Methodist Church.

According to the report, D’Attoma would request “half-naked” pictures of the teen, but “never physically groped her or anything in that regard.” Two years ago, D’Attoma reached out to the woman to go on a date, the woman told police. She reportedly refused and has not heard from D’Attoma since then. 

The officer writing the report noted that D’Attoma’s behavior, “while certainly inappropriate, would fall beyond the statute of limitation for anything I could investigate” and closed the case. 

TRR contacted Rural Chapel Methodist Church for comments regarding the allegations concerning D’Attoma, but the church declined to comment. 

Church hires D’Attoma despite alleged predatory history

D’Attoma’s alleged abuse of multiple female students at Northside Baptist allegedly followed a similar pattern to the one described in the new police report. The recent lawsuits claim D’Attoma requested explicit photos from the students at Northside Baptist, then sent them obscene messages and photos.

In 2014, D’Attoma left Northside Baptist and was hired by First Baptist Church (FBC) in Grove City, Ohio. As TRR previously reported, FBC Grove City was allegedly told of some inappropriate texts between D’Attoma and a teen when it hired him.

In 2020, FBC Grove City was sent an anonymous letter, accusing D’Attoma of sexual misconduct and D’Attoma resigned from the church. But according to Andrea Nelson, an FBC member, the church didn’t tell students in the youth ministry that D’Attoma had been fired, but instead that he had chosen to stop working in ministry.

“When they got to church, what they were told was that Mike no longer had a passion for student ministry. That’s why he was leaving,” Nelson said. She added that students “weren’t allowed to talk about it because that would be gossip.

“They literally lied. Even the words that they used, that he doesn’t have a passion for student ministry — actually his passion for student ministry is what got him in all this trouble.”

No parents were in the meeting with the students, Nelson added. 

TRR reached out to FBC Grove City for comments regarding the D’Attoma’s dismissal. No response was received by press time. 

Lawsuits seek damages from D’Attoma, SBC

Currently, D’Attoma, Northside Baptist, the SBC, and the South Carolina Baptist Convention (SCBC) are facing two lawsuits stemming from D’Attoma’s alleged abused.

The plaintiffs in the suits, Jane Doe and Jane Doe No. 2, claim the denomination took an active role in Northside’s affairs and should be held responsible. They say this included the appointment of ministers and responding to sexual misconduct allegations.

The SBC claims on its website that each church in the denomination is “autonomous.” And, in a previous court filing, the SBC stated it does not exercise authority over local churches.

Yet, the SBC has disfellowshipped churches from the denomination for hiring a female pastor or affirming same-sex relationships.

In an order denying the SBC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuits, Circuit Court Judge Clifton B. Newman wrote, “It would not be unexpected or unfair for SBC to be required to address (the plaintiffs’) claims in South Carolina.”

Similarly, South Carolina attorney Randy Hood, who represents the plaintiffs, said churches should be held liable for their corporate actions. Traditionally, this has not been the case, Hood said, but he’s hoping that will change.

“Churches are corporations and should be held liable for the same type of corporate actions that a corporation is held liable for,” Hood said. “They should not get a pass.”

The SBC has filed a motion to alter or amend Newman’s order. The SBC argues that for over a century, courts have recognized that Baptist churches are independent. It added that courts should not be given the authority to decide Baptist church matters. 

“Determination of whether (the SBC bodies) are nonetheless responsible for (D’Attoma’s) alleged conduct will necessarily require this court to review the very essence of what it means to be a Baptist,” the motion states.

D’Attoma’s attorney declined to comment on the dismissal order. However, in a previous court filing, D’Attoma denied any inappropriate conduct.