Bishops, Chancellors Learn How to Respond to Sexual Misconduct Complaints

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Support Teams for Victims of Clergy Sexual Misconduct

Unfortunately, we have an unfortunate, built-in conflict of interest, in our polity, when it comes to allegations of sexual misconduct against clergy. Pastorally, we want to provide support to anyone who has been victimized by sexual misconduct by clergy---which is the reason we have "support teams" and advocates for the complainant if judicial complaints are filed against the alleged offending clergy.

At the same time, we are at least supposed to grant to an alleged offending clergy, the assumption of innocence in our judicial process. By offering support to a complainant who alleges sexual misconduct on the part of a clergy, and offering a clergy advocate for the alleged victim, the Annual Conference is, almost from the beginning, making the assumption that the complaints by the alleged victim, are true. The alleged offending clergy is, in such situations, almost always immediately suspended pending investigation and trial. All of this diminishes, if not totally erodes, the presumption of innocence.

I've run across too many instances where complainants can also be what Lloyd Reideger calls, in his book, "Clergy Killers," persons who are using their complaints in some way to "get even" with an alleged clergy offender---even if the complaints are not true. By being appropriately pastoral with an alleged victim, it becomes too easy to overlook the fact that a complainant may be using her/his allegations of sexual misconduct mostly as a way to "get even" with a clergy---and we can get sucked into believing the complainant, prematurely, before reasonable investigation can be made.

I'm not saying this to justify clergy sexual misconduct; nor am I saying that we should not be pastoral to a person who alleges clergy sexual misconduct. I'm just saying that because of this built-in bias, we need to be particularly careful in doing a reasonable, unbiased investigation into the allegations.

Now that we no longer have a Committee on Investigation for complaints against clergy (which, in practicality, did no real investigation, but listened to presentation by counsel for the church and counsel for the respondent and then voted whether to issue charges), this puts a special burden on the clergy appointed to be counsel for the church, and the clergy asked to be counsel for the respondent, to make as unbiased an independent investigation, together, outside of the pastoral support mode, to be fair to all. That also means that those who provide support to a complainant also need to help the complainant understand that such an investigation will be made---and that investigation cannot begin with the assumption that every word the complainant utters is, in fact, true.

I wish we had a better way to deal with such matters.

Tom Griffith more than 4 years ago