Baptist agency comes clean about ex-missionary's trail of sexual abuse

An historical shot of Memorial Christian Hospital in Malumghat, Bangladesh. (ABWE)

The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism has released a 280-page report revealing how its leaders failed to stop a leading missionary surgeon from sexually abusing 22 women and girls.

Starting in 1961, missionary Donn Ketcham served at Memorial Christian Hospital in Malumghat, southeast Bangladesh. He was fired in 1989, for sexually abusing an underage teenage girl, who was labeled as a "willing partner" and coerced to confess.

But the new report, released May 10, shows a far wider trail of abuse, which began in 1964 and continued until 1989.

"We're devastated by the negligence of ABWE leadership in failing to remove Ketcham from the field again and again," said the family of the underage teen survivor. "We wish that ABWE leaders could comprehend the immeasurable pain that this … continues to cause her even to this day."

Over the course of his professional life, Ketcham abused at least 22 individuals, the report concludes. Many were his patients, and some (as young as 8) were given unnecessary pelvic and breast exams. There is evidence that several were heavily drugged with the anesthetic ketamine.

"There is no amount of remorse, regret or shame that can make up for the suffering and pain this abuse has caused," said Al Cockrell, ABWE interim president, "What Donn Ketcham did was reprehensible, and ABWE's lack of oversight and action was simply inexcusable."

Cockrell said the missions agency is committed to providing therapy and other services to survivors. He said the board would pay for these expenses as long as necessary.

Ketcham and family members did not cooperate with the investigation undertaken by Professional Investigators International on behalf of ABWE. Ketcham could not be reached for comment.

The cover-up has a long history. Investigators found that in 1985 a fellow missionary removed an official file on Ketcham and personally burned it, later saying the file was "full of nasty things."

Several key ABWE leaders were removed from office after the abuse was made public online in 2011.

In 2011, ABWE hired GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to conduct an official investigation. But the agency later terminated its contract.

"ABWE deliberately chose to sacrifice the lives of untold numbers of child victims in order to protect its own reputation and the reputation of a dangerous sexual offender," said Boz Tchividjian, head of GRACE. "The current ABWE leadership has betrayed and failed these abuse survivors in so many ways during the past five years." Tchividjian also said he was "encouraged" by the investigator's report.

He said that to prevent abuse, Christian agencies should change their culture to encourage prompt reporting of suspect behavior. He supports new legislation to require Americans who are overseas to report suspected abuse to authorities. "Silence," he said, "will no longer be an option."

ABWE is an independent agency based in Harrisburg, Pa., with an annual budget of $53 million.

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