The East Baltimore megachurch whose inadequate handling of child sexual abuse allegations was the focus of a recent Baltimore Banner series pledged Sunday to hire a nationally recognized, independent firm to investigate its response to those cases — and report the findings publicly.

Pastor Robert Colban announced the plan from the pulpit, reading prepared remarks. He said the church, Greater Grace World Outreach, expects to select a firm in the next few weeks and anticipates the work could take up to six months. He added that church leaders will not speak about the investigation once the review is underway.

“We commit to transparency, about the findings and about any work we need to do to ensure a safe environment for all our families in the future,” he said. “We ask that you pray for us during this process. And especially for those who have been victims of sexual abuse, that this process would be helpful in their healing.”

The protest at Greater Grace on Friday lasted about five hours. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

The development came two days after dozens of people gathered to protest the church’s response to abuse allegations. Survivors, their relatives, friends and supporters stood silently for hours on Friday outside the church’s tall black gates holding signs with messages such as “Not in our city,” “Silent no more” and “Do you see us now?”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Last month, The Banner published a series of articles detailing the claims of former church members who said they had been sexually abused as children by male figures at Greater Grace. The survivors — and, in many cases, their parents — said high-ranking Greater Grace pastors failed to take these allegations seriously, playing down the claims or pressuring survivors to forgive and move on.

In one case, a church leader refused even to read a hand-delivered letter detailing abuse allegations against a pastor. A few weeks ago, a church official refused to accept a letter describing The Banner’s findings when reporters visited the church seeking comment.

The Banner series chronicled the work of The Millstones, a group of former church members who investigated the hidden history of sexual abuse at Greater Grace. The group released a statement Sunday saying it does not trust the church to follow through on its promise to investigate.

“Nothing Greater Grace World Outreach leaders say can undo the harm they have done,” the group members said. “They still have not taken responsibility for the information that is already public or their continued pattern of victim-blaming.”

Colban on Sunday called sexual abuse of children “sinful, abhorrent and reprehensible, period,” adding that he and other members of the church staff were aggrieved at the thought of congregants being victimized. Colban belongs to the church’s board of trustees, the group that manages Greater Grace and sets its policies.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

His empathetic tone marked a departure from a pair of defensive sermons that Head Pastor Thomas Schaller delivered last week following publication of The Banner series.

Schaller initially defended the church’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations and said it had been unfairly attacked. He claimed not to know some of the alleged victims or whether their claims were serious, angering many of the people who had shared their stories publicly. Again on Sunday, he characterized The Banner’s recent coverage as “a number of bad articles.”

However, the church also invited congregants to share their thoughts about the series with high-ranking pastors and vowed to answer their questions.

“Any environment, or any venue, in which you’d like to talk, whether it’s one on one or it’s in a group setting, we want to be totally available to that,” Pastor Peter Taggart said. “Please let us know how we can help you.”