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So. Baptist Youth Pastor Kept Ministering for 6 Years After Reports of Alleged Abuse

By Sarah Einselen
D'Attoma ministering abuse
Michael D’Attoma

In 2014, people began reporting alleged sexual abuse by then-Southern Baptist youth pastor, Michael D’Attoma, to police and churches, documents obtained by The Roys Report (TRR) show.

Yet for six years, D’Attoma continued to minister in multiple churches. And his abuse became public only this year, when multiple former students in D’Attoma’s youth ministry filed lawsuits, accusing D’Attoma of sexually abusing them.

According to a 2014 police report, a woman alleged D’Attoma had exchanged photos and videos of him and a student “taking their clothes off.” The report adds that D’Attoma “admitted everything” in counseling with his pastor in South Carolina.

D’Attoma then left his church in South Carolina and was hired by First Baptist Church in Grove City, Ohio. Before hiring D’Attoma, FBC Grove City was told of D’Attoma’s alleged inappropriate texts with a teen, an email obtained by TRR indicates.

Even after more details came out, like the fact the alleged victim was only 14, FBC Grove City did not publicly disclose the allegations to congregants. Instead, it divulged the information on a “need-to-know” basis and welcomed D’Attoma to continue worshipping at the church.

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These revelations come as the SBC has been embroiled in scandal concerning the coverup of sex abuse at member churches. An independent report by Guidepost Solutions found that for decades, SBC leaders protected sexual abusers and mistreated their victims.

Woman told authorities D’Attoma ‘admitted everything’

In 2013, D’Attoma began serving as a student pastor at First Baptist Church Barnwell, in South Carolina.

Prior to that, he served as a youth pastor at Northside Baptist Church in West Columbia, South Carolina, from 2009 to 2012. According to lawsuits filed this year, D’Attoma abused multiple female students during his time at Northside Baptist, but those allegations only recently came to light. D’Attoma has denied the allegations in court filings and has not been criminally charged.

However, in September 2014, a friend of D’Attoma’s then-wife, Sarah D’Attoma, reported alleged sexual abuse of a minor to authorities in Lexington County, South Carolina. According to the incident report obtained by TRR, the woman told the deputy that she had found photos of one of D’Attoma’s former students, fully clothed.

The woman told the deputy that Sarah contacted the student, who reportedly told Sarah that she and Michael “had exchanged photos and videos of them taking their clothes off.”

Michael and his then-wife “told their current pastor and are receiving counseling from him,” the report continued. “Michael was the youth pastor there but is now just doing administrative duties.”

Sarah reportedly told her friend that Michael had “admitted everything” in counseling with the couple’s pastor. Sarah did not go into detail about what Michael admitted, the report said.

TRR sought comment from Sarah but she declined. We also reached out to Michael D’Attoma’s attorney but did not hear back by time of publication.

TRR reached out to FBC Barnwell but did not hear back. We also sought comment from Keith Richardson, who pastored FBC Barnwell at the time, but he did not reply.

At the time of the report, the woman told authorities D’Attoma had accepted a new job as a youth pastor in Ohio and would be moving in October 2014.

Deputies were unable to speak to the former student in the photos and closed the case a few weeks later, the report shows.

Ohio church disclosed allegations ‘on a need-to-know basis’

In late 2014, D’Attoma began working as the assistant pastor at yet another Southern Baptist church: First Baptist Church of Grove City, Ohio. He ran the church’s student ministry and in 2016 served as the camp pastor for “Ohio Changers,” a teen/adult mission trip to repair homes.

During these years, FBC Grove City reportedly knew of D’Attoma’s alleged abuse of a teen, according to a letter sent to church leaders in November 2020 from a couple withdrawing their church membership.

ministering abuse grove city
First Baptist Church of Grove City, Ohio (Photo via Facebook)

TRR asked to speak with the couple on the record, but they did not respond. We have, however, confirmed their identity.

The couple states in the letter that they had recently learned D’Attoma was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old at a prior church.

“As we understand it, Mike D’Attoma was hired as the youth pastor at FBC despite this information being known by thesenior pastor of FBC,” the couple wrote. “While we understand that Mike may have not been fully truthful with every detail of this relationship, any inkling that the pastor might have had an affair with a minor should have immediately excluded him from consideration for the job.”

The couple also complained that FBC Grove City had allowed D’Attoma to resign “without a formal announcement” in an apparent attempt to “make this situation disappear.”

According to the lawsuits filed this year, D’Attoma’s resignation in 2020 was prompted by an anonymous letter sent to FBC Grove City accusing him of sexual misconduct.

“We worry that the culture of FBC is following the cover up culture of the Southern Baptist Convention,” the couple wrote. And they urged FBC Grove City to conduct a third-party investigation to beef up the church’s policies and determine whether anyone else was harmed.

reports abuse ministering
Dave Earley (Courtesy Photo)

Dave Earley, FBC Grove City’s lead pastor, responded in an email December 1, 2020, which was also obtained by TRR. Early confirmed the church’s leadership had been aware for some time that D’Attoma was accused of texting a teen.

The previous senior pastor, Jerry Neal, “did not have all the information” and believed all that had happened was “an isolated event (not an affair) with an older teen in which some inappropriate texting occurred,” Earley wrote (italics in original).

Neal, now pastor emeritus, had also spoken with D’Attoma’s “pastor/counselor who said Mike had repented,” Earley added.

Earley said the church deacons discussed having a public meeting but decided against it because D’Attoma’s misconduct had “occurred before he was at FBC” (emphasis in original). Early added that there was no evidence of “any inappropriate behavior” during D’Attoma’s time at FBC Grove City.

Earley’s email states that “more information came out in 2020,” but the church did not disclose the nature of the alleged misconduct to all church members.

Leaders addressed the additional information with certain members “on a need-to-know basis,” including the church’s personnel committee, pastoral staff, student ministry leaders, and some others, according to Earley’s email.

They were also all given direction to support the D’Attomas in prayer and reach out to them,” he wrote (emphasis in original). “Both of the D’Attomas were told they were welcome to worship at FBC.”

The church did not publicly address Michael D’Attoma’s alleged abuse because “We do not make it a practice of airing people’s past sins publicly,” Earley wrote. “We believe that the Bible teaches repentance AND restoration of fallen sinners.”

Earley added there were potential legal concerns with making the alleged misconduct known. Plus, church leaders hoped “to save the marriage and spare the children of unnecessary grief” (italics in original).

TRR reached out to Earley for comment. Among other questions, TRR asked Earley to clarify what misconduct FBC Grove City’s leadership was aware of and when. We also asked how church leadership determined there were no allegations of misconduct during D’Attoma’s employment there, and whether any third-party investigation had taken place.

Earley did not respond.

Hearing expected in lawsuit alleging abuse

The D’Attomas “disappeared” from FBC Grove City in 2020, according to the former church members’ letter. Court records show the couple has since divorced.

Michael D’Attoma is facing two lawsuits stemming from allegations he abused multiple girls while working at Northside Baptist, TRR previously reported.

In addition to D’Attoma, the two lawsuits name the Southern Baptist Convention, Northside Baptist, and the South Carolina Baptist Convention as defendants. The plaintiffs claim the SBC should be held responsible because it created an environment where abuse was permitted.

The SBC and other defendants have now sought to have both lawsuits dismissed, court records show. Everyone involved in the first suit has agreed to seek a hearing on the defendants’ motions to dismiss, but the court has not yet scheduled one.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.



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31 Responses

  1. Excuse my Hebrew, but what the freaking hell is wrong with these churches. The pastor is to feed and to protect the sheep from predators, especially sexual predators. These pastors should be fired and also named in the lawsuits.

    1. Rev. Bob Fritch,

      They should, but have you recently attended any services in these “modern” churches, heard/seen what is being preached, and how? Have you tried to have a conversation with them about the 10 Commandments/Jesus as not only our salvation, but our foundation for how to live by them in a culture that worships self, personnel accountability, and how they lead by example? Have you seen what happens when someone asks a valid scripture based question that contradicts what was preached, and how they react to being challenged?

  2. Things like this expose the brood of vipers who claim to be pastors/elders. Woe to them who treat horrid crimes like a nominal offence to be overlooked! Does hell burn hot enough for these neo-Pharisees? Yes it does, I have seen it. Nothing has changed in 2000 years. These leaders would still gladly kill Jesus Christ while claiming to be representing God. We shall all see the likes of these judged at the end of all things. What did Jesus say? That it was better to have a millstone tied to their necks and tossed into the sea?

  3. If all this is true, it’s more than tragic. It’s criminal and the pastors and/or church administrators contributing to the cover up should be fired and never work as pastors ever again.

    What century are we living in?

  4. I have many, many comments to make on this article but I went way past the allotted 300 words and can not post my concerns. Let me just say that I am glad that people are questioning FBC Grove City and their tactics. They have tried for a couple years now to keep this situation quiet and it is finally starting to come out into the open. D’Attoma needs to be charged, tried and convicted of sexually abusing teenagers. It doesn’t really matter that he has denied all allegations. I heard someone who is knowledgeable about sexual abuse say that when a child informs an adult that something like this has happened, they don’t make it up, they don’t lie.

    1. Tom, as a counselor and teacher, I can say that you are absolutely right. And for the record, pastors fall under the mandated reporter law; D’Attoma should have been reported to the police and the Department of Family and Children’s services both in South Carolina and in Grove City; all pastors and leaders who knew of the alleged abuse are guilty of not reporting it. And those who want to point fingers at the victims and at D’Attom’s ex-wife are totally wrong and out-of-line. D’Attoma should be in jail NOW, not later, before he hurts someone else.

      1. I wonder how long the ex-wife knew about this without saying anything. It sounds like quite a while. She sounds guilty as hell too.

      2. This man’s wife previous boss/pastor are also at fault. Keith Richardson, an attorney and pastor from Barnwell South Carolina, knew of the inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl, did not report it authorities AND proceeded to give high recommendations for Mr D’Attoma to take a position at another church. Mrs. D’Attoma was also in agreement with Mr. D’Attoma remaining a youth pastor and moving to another church even after finding incriminating photos of him. Both Mrs D’Attoma and Mr. Richard are at fault for putting other minors at risk.

    2. Rev Keith Richardson, the pastor in Barnwell is also responsible for Mr D’Attomas move to Ohio, sending the church in Grove City recommendations for Mr D’Attoma as a pastor, even though Mr Richardson was well aware of the pictures Mrs D’Attoma found.

      Furthermore, Mrs D’Attoma appears to have gone along with keeping the story quiet, not notifying authorities, remaining married and moving with Mr D’Attoma to Ohio while he continued to work in youth ministry. Did she ever come clean with what she knew? Has anyone asked her why she didn’t question Mr D’Attoma being allowed to remaining in ministry?

      Mr Richardson and Mrs D’Attoma are at risk for putting other minors at risk by keeping quiet.

  5. It seems established, on its reported face, that Michael D’Attoma should be tried as to his actions. Not necessarily criminally, as determining any prosecution involves complex considerations. Certainly his fitness to hold any position in a Christian entity, seems fairly established by documented allegations; so the Christian perspective being there applied, appears valid.
    However the lawsuits fulcrummed in the crucial term “permitted”, appear less proven on their face. If the lawsuits prevail, then that would establish the ground for going forward with a general project of abuse prevention and accountability. If they fail, then that ground will remain unsecured for the project. So a lot involved in the processing of these lawsuits.

  6. I am 100% convinced that if this man had stolen huge amounts of money from these churches, they would have called the police, and they would have fully disclosed to their members what had happened. And they certainly would not have allowed him to manage funds for another church in the denomination without plainly warning the new church about his misdeeds.

    But no, this was only the sexual abuse of children. Not a priority. These girls’ innocence, their bodies, their souls, their self image? Not important at all.

      1. I totally agree with John. All too often, churches cover things like this up, thinking they’re sparing someone, when all they’re doing is protecting the criminal who should be prosecuted. And worse still, people blame the girls saying they tempted the sexual predator, or blaming the family members of the predator because they believed the predator when he claimed to have repented. IF true repentance had occurred, D’Attoma wouldn’t have repeated his actions, and he’d be a man and admit his wrongs instead of denying things for which there is apparently proof.

  7. Important to note that Sarah D’Attoma also grew up and was herself heavily socialized in a patriarchal, controlling church that taught that wives should be fully submissive to their husbands under the authority of church leadership. And it’s clear that she followed that directive in this situation. This church she grew up in (Grace Brethren) had an almost identical situation with Dwayne Smith, who groomed and sexually abused a minor while in a position of leadership and was “restored” after he “repented” and was allowed to continue in the same capacities. Dwayne’s wife stood by his side too. Nothing changed until the story ended up on the front pages of The Columbus Dispatch. One wonders how Mike D’Attoma story might have turned out differently and how much more quickly Mike would have been stopped from sexually abusing minors had Sarah had a different upbringing. It’s grievously sinful that evangelical theology creates situations of authoritarian impunity for men in power – and teaches their wives to submit or else.

    1. Brian,
      You really don’t understand this situation. Now is not the time to bash Sarah/or her church upbringing. When you are dealing with evil actions by a narcissistic sociopath, we need to focus on his preying and grooming of teenage girls and what he did to his family. Let’s support Sarah and her kids as they move forward loving and serving God!

      1. I’d love to know exactly which parts of my comment you disagree with, Tom.

        All I’m saying is that if Grace Brethren Church had actually taught and modeled that those who sexually abuse children are manipulative sociopaths and that these things never happen “one time” and that you cannot by definition have “an affair” with a minor and that if these activities should immediately and conclusively disqualify a person from ever serving in a role working directly with minors,… then perhaps Sarah and others would have been far better equipped to confront and appropriately deal with this situation. Instead, they taught and modeled the opposite. And that allowed abuse to flourish and it taught parishioners to trust those who are doing the abuse, up to and including their own husbands.

        I’m not sure how you can refute any of this.

        Feel free to email me directly – my email is brianestabrook at gmail dot com.

        1. Yes, and let’s not forget that the ex-wife and likely her family covered it up for years. Of course, the ex-wife is a victim, but she also helped perpetuate this by covering it up. The ex-wife, her family, and Michael are all guilty. Michael, of course, should face consequences when he is proven guilty. It’s also undeniable that Sarah was socialized in a church that encourages women to be subservient to males and their husbands. Her parents must have done a real number on her.

          1. Your are totally wrong. You do not have the facts, and you are bashing people falsely. The family did NOTHING to cover up anything, but leaders did nothing to insure that the acts were permanently stopped. Leaders didn’t report to authorities.

          2. Definitely a coverup going on by the previous church pastor and Mrs D’Attoma. Why would either of them agree to Mr D’Attoma’s move to Ohio knowing what they knew? Why wouldn’t they have gone to authorities themselves? Mrs D’Attoma remained married to Mr D’Attoma for many years after she found out about his actions. She must not have felt too uncomfortable with him working around youth or even being a part of their own children’s upbringing.

      2. Tom, I hear you. And I really want to support Sarah and her family. I love her, and I love her parents.

        But as you know, I also grew up in the church Brian mentions. As an advocate for at-risk children and victims of sexual abuse, I know that these problems are not isolated issues of “bad men doing bad things.” There are deep, deep cultural flaws that enable and perpetuate this kind of abuse. And the SBC — like the church I grew up in — are complicit and need to be held to account.

      3. Tom, I totally agree with you, and with John’s comparison. I also feel sure that D’Attoma is guilty of everything he’s been accused of. And sarah is a victim; she believed her husband had repented, but being a master of manipulation, he tricked her and others. Blame him, not her.

        1. Peggie: I want to once again stress that in no way am I attacking Sarah. She is a victim and I hope she and her kids are well and thriving. My point is that she’s a victim BECAUSE no one modeled for her how to effectively confront and expose sexual predation of minors.

          Her church growing up taught her to forgive and restore men who do this and give them their old jobs back. They modeled for her that sexual abuse of a minor can be understood as a “one time affair” and that such a man can be trusted around children after he has repented. Her church growing up also taught her to submit to the authority of her husband as unto God.

          So, yes, Sarah is a victim. A victim of very, very, very bad theology and even worse praxis. And that bad theology and worse praxis gave her no chance to effectively say “no, this is not an affair – it’s a crime” and “no, this does not happen one time – sexual abusers of children almost always have many, many victims” and “no, he should NOT be allowed to continue pastoring children – he is now entirely disqualified from this ministry and from any leadership of children whatsoever.” I grieve for Sarah, as I do for all women trapped in patriarchal systems that grant impunity to powerful abusers.

          1. Brian, I used to attend that same church, and that teaching was NOT a part of the church. While certain leaders made decisions years ago, there was no such teaching there. And you do not know what measures have been taken to correct situations of the past.

        2. Above you say that I do not know the story and there was no cover, but now you are saying that she knew, but believed her husband repented. Michael, the mastermind trickster, tricked Sarah into believing that he had repented for sexual abusing girls. Therefore, she did know and covered it up for 10 years. The bottom line is that her and her family knew about Michael’s behavior for almost 10 years. She is a victim and also an enabler. Her parents are just self-righteous, hippocrates who decided to go public with this 10 years after they discovered their daughter was abusing 14 year old girls. Every one of these people had a duty to tell the authorities. They didn’t; they’re all guilty. All parties involved, including Sarah’s family, should be ashamed. I read the story last week about D’Attoma’s family. They seem to be the only ones in this whole thing who did the right thing.

  8. In brief, business as usual under the SBC umbrella. Foxes guarding the henhouse so they can devour the newly-hatched baby chicks.

    1. Linda, that is very uncomfortable to read, but sadly it is true. We need to hear such things to shock us out of our complacency.

  9. This short article on Julie Roys is worth a read:

    This is exactly how these situations should be handled by churches. (1) Immediately fire the pastor, (2) immediately go public with the specifics of what happened and seek to identify other potential victims, and (3) immediately take all victims’ complaints seriously and go directly to police. Well done to Champion Forest Baptist, at least based on the characterization of their actions in this article. If Christian churches and schools train up their parishioners and children on this and model it for them then we have a chance to ensure that future sexual predators will be exposed and removed MORE quickly.

    That was my point in the earlier article – sadly, no one reacted in this way and in my opinion that is due to a lack of training and preparation and modeling by the churches and schools involved. If this had happened with Mike D’Attoma then he would not have served for six more years as a youth pastor after he was exposed in 2014. And that failure sits at the feet of many people, including his church, his church’s leadership, and the churches and schools that trained and modeled permissiveness toward sexual predation that had an influence on those who could have gone public but chose not to do so.

    I’m not trying to relitigate these points again but I thought I’d provide this example of a church doing the right things and doing them immediately and with full transparency.

    1. Agreed! Shouldn’t his previous boss/pastor and wife also been forthcoming about what occurred? Shame on them for helping conceal these actions.

  10. Shouldn’t Mr and Mrs D’Attoma’s previous pastor, Keith Richardson, have reported to authorities when he was made known of the photos Mrs D’Attoma found? As a pastor, Keith Richardson was obligated to report abuse of a minor. He should have also notified the church in Ohio that Mr D’Attoma transferred to about the inappropriate relationship that had been discovered prior to the D’Attoma’s move to Ohio.

    Why did Mrs D’Attoma not address the inappropriate sexual relationship she discovered to the authorities in 2014? Why did she allow Mr D’Attoma to continue to support him working in vocational ministry when she knew this happened with a teenager in his youth group?

    Mr D’Attoma was 100% wrong and should absolutely be held accountable. Shouldn’t the people closest to him who were aware of his behavior also be held accountable?

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