Abuse Victims Task Force: Discussion

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To discuss the 2010 report from the Abuse Victims Task Force post your comments here.

For further reading, see this article from The Banner: New Guidelines for Abuse Cases Proposed

Excerpt from the report's introduction:

For most members of the CRC, the local congregation is our community. It is our community of believers—our corner of Christ’s body on earth. It elicits feelings of love and loyalty in us, including attachment to our church leaders, who are a vital part of the community. When a church leader is accused of misconduct or abuse, community and personal stability are deeply shaken. We do not want to believe it, and we often do not know what to do. We feel close to the church leader, who is often well-liked and has contributed to the growth and vitality of the congregation. We often dissipate some of our denial and confusion by blaming the victim for bringing forward an allegation that a respected church leader is involved in sexual misconduct. A near-universal response is a desire to make the problem go away as quickly and quietly as possible.

As a community of Christ’s body, however, we must seek justice and mercy; we must seek the path of love for all parties. This is not easy. Each situation is complicated and emotional. The pain is deep. The effects for the claimant, the accused, and the congregation can be life changing.

And so, together, in the larger community of the denomination, members of the CRC have searched for ways to prevent abuse in the church and to respond effectively to allegations of misconduct by church leaders. The CRC showed leadership among North American denominations by forming the Office of Abuse Prevention in 1994, in response to a comprehensive study of abuse within our own denomination. Now named the Safe Church Ministry, the office helps congregations develop abuse prevention policies and practices; it facilitates the formation of classical safe church teams; it provides educational resources; and it has developed guidelines for responding to allegations of church leader misconduct.

From the beginning, the CRC officially recognized that sexual misconduct by a church leader, particularly by a pastor, always represents an abuse of power and authority; consistent implementation of this understanding, however, in action and in attitudes, remains a challenge. The report to Synod 1994 from the Synodical Committee on Abuse Prevention stated that “abuse by people in positions of leadership is always abuse of power. There is always a differential in power between the abuser and the victim” (Agenda for Synod 1994, p. 147). The following year Synod 1995 approved “Guidelines for Ministerial Personnel in Their Interpersonal Relationships.” These guidelines unequivocally placed responsibility for proper relationship boundaries on ministerial personnel.

Abuse committed by ministerial personnel is always abuse of the authority committed to them by the church, as well as a serious betrayal of trust essentially assigned to ministerial personnel by those who need pastoral care and spiritual direction. . . . To abuse that authority and to violate that trust are a breach of ministerial responsibility that disregards a person’s dignity in a setting of unequal power at a time of vulnerability. . . . Furthermore, sexual contact between parishioner and ministerial personnel is always abuse because of the authority entrusted to leaders. . . . The responsibility to assure that no abusive behavior takes place always belongs to ministerial personnel. The consent of the other person is never a justification, nor is the provocation by another person a defense for abuse.

(Agenda for Synod 1995, pp. 555-56) 

Abuse of authority and power through sexual misconduct harms not only the victim but also the church. As stated in the first abuse study report presented to Synod 1992, “Abuse by clergy undermines the credibility of the ministerial profession and ultimately of the gospel itself. Prevention of such abuse and appropriate discipline for its occurrence are of paramount importance for the health of the church” (Agenda for Synod 1992, p. 352). The understanding of sexual misconduct by ministerial staff as an abuse of power remains as important and valid today as nearly two decades ago when synod received that first report.

Over the years the Christian Reformed Church learned that sexual abuse by church leaders occurs more often than we want to believe. We also learned that victims struggle for years or a lifetime to regain a sense of hopefulness and peace within the body of Christ. Regrettably, many victims leave the church.

Building on what we have learned, we continue the search for more effective pastoral responses that demonstrate justice and mercy through love and healing toward the victim, the offender, their families, and their congregations. This report is one more step toward bringing Christ’s love and restoration to those individuals and communities confronted with an allegation of abuse by a church leader.

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The proposal seems to be a significant expansion of the role of the ART/Safe Church function into more of a pastoral super-council. This idea has some merit because most councils are too close to either the accused or accuser to properly address the issue.

I note the following related to the proposal: under ART rules Classical ART teams were required to engage/respond only if requested by a "council or equivalent" however this proposal allows a claimant to talk directly to a Classical team or the denominational SC function. Under ART rules, a Classical ART could only engage if there was reason to believe that physical or sexual abuse took place. This proposal broadens the engagement spectrum significantly to include even claims of flirtatious behavior.

However, this is my concern related to the proposal. Two years ago an independent group of people including CRC Elders, mental health professionals, and attorneys researched one recent case involving a CRC ART involvement. The case involved claims made by a woman against her former employer (a man and former Elder) after her employer refused to provide her with a letter of recommendation. The group found that in this case ART had engaged for reasons other than "reason to believe there was physical or sexual abuse", engaged without "a request from council or equivalent", was "deceptive" in its phone conversations with the accused, and displayed a "lack of process integrity and accountability". The woman's Pastor was found to have "manipulated" the ART process and acted in a manner "unbecoming of a Pastor". The group made note that the Pastor was involved to an "inappropiate degree" in the process and displayed "an intent to cause harm" to the reputation of the accused. The claims of the accuser were found to be false. The group made note that the Pastor received advice and instruction from the CRC denominational ART function and that much earlier his council had expressed concern over decisions he had made that involved the accuser.

A letter of apology was received by the Classical body involved and the Pastor verbally apologized. Because of the numerous breaches of confidentiality and related rumors there is an on-going investigation. Without the threat of legal action the denominational ART/SC function and leadership have been asked specific questions related to this case by those injured. To date, the function and denominational leadership have refused to answer the questions, seemly protecting the Pastor and the denominational function. Ironically, if the proposal passes some would say that a refusal to answer such questions is in itself abusive and worthy of SC investigative involvement.

My question related to the proposal is, if we are now going to expand the power of the SC function what type of accountability (specifically) will its leadership and the CRC Executive Director have as they provide leadership in this area?

Scott VanderKooy

Correction to my most recent post: Fourth paragraph should read "A letter of apology was written by Classical leadership and received by those injured".

Scott VanderKooy

Dear Readers:
Pastors and council members will inevitably be faced with abuse allegations of some sort in their future. My concern is if you as church leaders are ready and equipped in knowing how to respond when it comes to your council table. Sadly, I’ve witnessed responses by church leaders to victims to be disheartening and disappointing.

“You wouldn’t want to bring all this all up now and hurt all these people, would you?”
“He’s a family man, he’d never do that.”
“That happened several months ago, that’s water under the dam.”
“I’m not going to do anything because he’s my friend.”
“Quit making such a big deal of it.”

All of these responses say to the victim, “Go away. I don’t want to hear about it.” As one pastor said to me, “I don’t have to know anything about abuse until it comes to my desk.” To which I respond, “It already has and you missed it.”

On page 22 of the report it recommends that the Ex. Director develop a handbook that would help council members to know their function and role as council members when abuse allegations come forward. I fully support that – but also want to encourage all pastors and council members to begin now, on their own, to read, research, and get training about abuse. For by doing so, your response to a victim’s call for help will demonstrate the concern the church must have.

Judy De Wit

Dear Readers:

Evaluating and addressing the current abuse response team process and its overall functioning in responding to abuse are not new. Back in 2002-2003 the BOT was faced with concern about the effectiveness of our current process with discussions of other options of how else it could be done. Nothing ever came of it. Then three years later, in 2006, Attorney Jonker addressed the Synod by stating that there needed to be a mechanism – a vehicle - that needed to be explored to see if something better could be found to respond to abuse and abuse cases. There may be others.

Now we come to Synod 2010 and again faced with nearly the exact same question leaders have faced before: is this the most effective way for us as a church system to respond?

Part of the work of the Abuse Victims Task Force report was to invite write-ins by victims to express their experiences of coming forward with allegations and how the church responded. Understanding that write-in information was assured to be kept confidential, in a general way, I would be curious to know if the write-ins favored, were neutral, or were harmed by the abuse response process. Complaints about the process and those who lead the process are pieces of information that would be helpful for us as a denomination to make a more informed decision regarding how effective our current response process is.

Somehow the current abuse response system seems protected. Issues have been brought up in the past, but little change ever really occurs. I’ve been told by others that “there are mistakes,” but then those mistakes are excused easily. I wonder if objectivity on the effectiveness of the process hasn’t been lost. It seems that some individuals are more focused on their own acceptance and approval by the abuse response administration then honest evaluation of how well the process is working. I even observed this need for approval on the floor at Synod 2008.

If we are serious about addressing abusive leadership, then let’s use our voices at Synod 2010 to have an open and transparent discussion about the loop-holes, flaws, and breakdowns of our current system. Courageously let’s not call the current abuse response team process “good enough.” Instead let’s be sure – this time – that the process is something safer, stronger, and more objective for those who need it when they come forward with abuse allegations.

Or we will be having this discussion again in about four years.

Judy De Wit

Participant

BOQ Or we will be having this discussion again in about four years. EOQ

Hey Judy, you were prophetic... they did have the discussion again in 4 years (2014) and again 4 years later (2018)... 

Dear Readers:
When a pastor manipulates an abuse response team in order to get them to meet with a complainant about allegations without council knowledge or approval, there is derailment of process.

When the abuse response team meets with a complainant about allegations without the accused council’s request or knowledge, there is derailment of process.

When chair of the team requests to meet with the accused – and the chair admits to the accused this has nothing to do with sexual or physical abuse allegations – there is a derailment of process.

When the team was directed by the CIC to stop their work, but the team continued anyway –and sent out a letter of findings - process is derailed.

Now the abuse response team process is the abuser.

Sadly, this happened.

Because of this - and there may be other cases similar to it - I ask you to consider challenging the denomination about a different way to do the investigative/fact-finding process. One idea would be to go to an "Outside the Denomination" Professional Investigative/fact-finding Services. Here are some reasons why:

1. Increased objectivity. Since many of our people and churches know each other, teams often run into difficulty with objectivity because of how we are related to one another. Effective outcomes and better recommendations for both the accused and the complainant are more likely when objectivity is present. Using an outside of the denomination process could increase objectivity.

2. Reduced liability. When a professional team is hired by a church, mistakes with the process are not charged to the abuse response teams. Mistakes are instead held by those who provided the services. Therefore, this would reduce the possibility of our teams and churches from being sued. Outside the denomination process could reduce liability.

3. Reduced cost of the running of the Abuse Prevention Office. Because there would be no teams, there would be no expenses for the director to do trainings and re-trainings, including plane, car, hotel, rentals, and other. Costs for professional services would be channeled by another means. Pastoral ministries would be saving themselves some money.

4. Reduced time and energy. The maintaining of teams, with the current number at about 20 and with the potential of it being more, is too difficult to do, especially when team members change over time. Let the professionals do it and pay them for it.

5. Increased confidentiality. Because outside services are used, it is very unlikely that the investigative process would become a source of slander, libel, or breach of confidentiality. This would actually make the process safer – something we are striving to do - to make church and its processes safe.

6. Professional, competent services are needed for such crucial and critical work. A little 20-hour training does not adequately equip or prepare team members to handle the important work of investing abuse allegations. No person “gets it” by doing a little training, having a few conversations, read an article, and then be equipped to handle abuse allegations.

A different way of stating it would be:

1. Human nature wants to believe the worst. There are too many preconceived ideas about what happened before anything has been determined. Our human nature wants to quickly believe the bad and wrong of others and once that happens, ministry for the person (accused) is often over. Trust is lost for the accused even if the party never did anything wrong.

2. Teams run a high risk of being sued. Teams, because of their incompetence and ill-equipped and ill-trained background, run a high risk of being sued. Their failure to understand how liability works and what typical issues can lead to lawsuits increases their possibility of being sued. When a team (and the director) fails to follow Synod-adopted process for investigations and defamation has occurred, you can be assured litigation will soon follow.

3. Poor stewardship. Monies for training and retraining have reached a place where we need to question stewardship. Wasting money on a project that has shown itself not to meet a good enough level of success calls us as Christians to stop and evaluate about what we are really doing.

4. Abuse is a complex issue. Abuse has so many areas and avenues for understanding. Spending time and energy on something that has not met enough success is a lost cause. We could better use that time and energy to educate church leaders and members about the subject of abuse in hopes of helping a greater number of people. Let’s put our energy into something that actually has better and greater results.

5. Confidentiality in the CRC is a big problem. Confidentiality is often non-existent in the CRC. From denominational personnel to team members to pastors to councils, we struggle with silencing confidential information of others. This again can lead to defamation. This leads to the church becoming abusive again – and the betrayal of trust comes on a whole new level.

6. Investigations of allegations are a critical and crucial matter. Lives and futures are in the hands of team members who have at times shown themselves to be incompetent and ill-equipped to do this work. A little 20-hour training will never prove itself worthy of service in comparison to professionals who are trained in this field of expertise and who know what this is all about.

7. Frivolous allegations. Just as there are attempts to do frivolous lawsuits, so are there attempts by dysfunctional people, usually women, to bring forth frivolous allegations. Their need for attention and their skewed perceptions, (such as "he flirts with me or came on to me") usually from women who have been sexually abused as children, will be decreased and even eliminated when the council has to decide if they need to hire the outside resource to investigate. Along with this, if the council chooses to hire the outside investigative services, professionals can pick out a Borderline Personality Disorder Woman easily - and will be equipped to deal with her dysfunction far better and more effectively then teams would. Also chances are that there will be less attempts for Borderline Woman to manipulate the system because professionals can recognize their manipulation and address such behavior appropriately.

If the argument – and I have heard this – is that councils would more likely not use an outside source because it is not as easily accessible, then we need to ask -- - - what is better?

to use our own response system (which cannot guarantee safety and could show itself to be abusive)
vs.
using a professional service (which would be safer ) which councils may less likely utilize because of a lack of convenience
vs.
other ideas that need to be explored

????

Judy De Wit

Dear Readers:
I thank you Synod 2010 delegates and my Lake Superior representatives for your discussion and approval of the task force report yesterday. It brought tears to my eyes and thanksgiving to God as I heard how you were earnest in wanting these improvements in the abuse response process.

Twelve years ago my then church failed in being church to me when such hardship came my way. What happened Wednesday at Synod was another step toward for our denomination to becoming more of what God’s mandate is for His Church: being healing agents in His broken world.

As you leave Synod this year, continue to wrestle with God and with yourself about what He wants you to do to stop abuse in your faith community.

My favorite verse is: Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the abused will no longer be disabled, but rather healed. Hebrews 12: 12-13

Judy De Wit

Dear Readers:

It’s been several weeks since the close of Synod. However, my thoughts continue to swirl around the topic of abuse and the reality of it in the CRC. As varying thoughts and feelings surface, this keeps coming to mind: A narcissistic church leader.

Narcissism is a personality disorder that certain individuals have that blur and distort reality. A narcissistic person believes the world revolves around him, that he is special, that he is to be the centerpiece of every conversation, and fishes out compliments and strokes from anyone he can. He comes off as the “know it all” and denies any wrong doing he is responsible for. He is quick to blame others when confronted about his behavior and can display an emotion that is fitting for a particular moment. Narcissists are exhausting to deal with simply because they will drain every ounce of energy out of a person because of their need for all of the attention.

Now imagine a Narcissist church leader being the abuser in a church setting. It’s silly to think that anything constructive or productive could come from an investigative or fact-finding process that involves a narcissist church leader accused of abuse. His charming and manipulative approach and his sly way of shifting blame to the victim will be too difficult for most common church leaders to address. His prior work of aligning himself with the most influential and powerful church members will give him what he needs when council tries to put him in the hot seat. He will be skilled in deflecting all of the charges onto someone or something else and his persuasive responses will manipulate the thinking of most.

Sadly, I’ve seen it. Duped by his charm, council members were tripped into believing the most absurd explanations for his behavior.

It can’t be said enough: Wake up, people! Not all pastors or church leaders fall in the “normal” range of functioning. And when that is so, beware of his approach that will be used to manipulate your thinking.

Judy De Wit

Dear Readers:

Understanding the Narcissistic pastor/church leader is crucial when dealing with church leadership and administration. Should the Narcissist pastor/church leader abuse, know that he will use every distorted view to shift blame for his behavior onto the victim and others.

My concern is: restorative justice process needs careful consideration if the offender is a narcissist. Know that if he is a narcissist, he has no earnest desire to fully own his responsibility to have done harm. He can’t do it. He can’t do it because his self-esteem is near nothing and admitting his wrong would crash him. In a R.J. process, he would display the right emotion for that moment – but genuine sorrow for sin and owning his sins are nearly impossible. He does not have the ability to engage with another’s pain and his mind takes him to thinking, “She’s such a whiner.”

Church leaders need to be strong and non-manipulative when dealing with a narcissistic church leader who has abused. When churches hold him accountable for his actions and confront him about his abuse, be prepared to hear some of the most bizarre responses. Also know that in the R. J. process, a victim is at risk to be harmed again, simply because facilitators/moderators can’t control what comes out of the Narcissist’s mouth. And be aware that he will use that opportunity to say whatever he wants --- with no regrets – making sure he got the last word.

I’ve dealt with this – three times!

Judy De Wit

Dear Readers:

For easy reference, I use the three A’s when victims of church leadership abuse need to understand how to heal and start the forgiveness process: accountability, acknowledgement, and apology. Those responsible for his work need to hold the abuser accountable for his actions by confronting him and addressing the issues to him -- expecting and demanding truth about what happened. In acknowledgement, the victim needs to hear the abuser say, “Yes, I did this to you. I was the one. I wronged you and harmed you. I did not show respect for you.” And in the apology, the accuser must say to the victim, “I am sorry. What I did was wrong and I fully apologize.” (Fortune, Marie M., pp. 9-13).

From there, it’s helpful to think about the three R’s that need to occur. They are: restitution, relinquishment of power, and relief. In restitution, the victim must have some sort of pay back for the wrong that was done. It needs to be something tangible. In our society it is money. There needs to be relinquishment of power. This means the abuser must have his position in the church taken away from him and reinstatement to a church position denied. Third, the victim must feel relief about what has happened because the church leadership has invested well into the situation and has sought out protection for the victim’s safety and the safety of others (Fortune, Marie M., pp. 9-13).

(Fortune, Marie M., Sexual Abuse by Clergy: A Crisis for the Church, Decatur: Journal of Pastoral Care Publications, Inc., 1994.)

“Just forgive,” and “What would Jesus do?” are simplistic answers to handling abuse by church leaders. If these were the correct responses, there would be no jails or prisons. And now that you are informed about the Abuse Victims Task Force Report, you know there are no simplistic answers to this problem.

And remember --- by holding the abuser to the three A’s and the three R’s, you are loving him in the best way you can. This response from you to him says that he is worth every minute of your time and energy, because you want to ensure that “it is well with his soul.”

Judy De Wit

 

Dear Readers:Abuse always robs. It always ruins, always destroys, and always hurts. Those who have experienced abuse often have difficulties with relationships, manipulation, trust, skewed perceptions and so much more. Abuse always robs. Take the experience of abuse and now put it in the context of the church. Now the damage and the confusion from the abuse multiplies itself tenfold. For not only did the abuse itself do damage, but the very ones we trusted to be safe for us were not. The very place that was to bring us healing and comfort did not. And the very community that was designed to give us fellowship had not. Instead, we’ve been robbed. Now the going to church is not about joy and fellowship, but about anger and turmoil. Now a time of worship is not about comfort and encouragement but a time of feeling hurt and betrayed. Now the seeing of any church leadership turns into emotional implosion. Anxiety, sadness, and sleepless nights dominate. We’ve been robbed. We’ve been robbed of peace – peace with ourselves, with others and with God. Abuse never gives. It always takes.  Look again at the task force report. Think through again the devastation and harm done to those who have been abused by our leadership. Then ask yourself what you need to do to strengthen your church in understanding this subject. Be a grassroots worker. Get training, go to workshops, read books. Be a leader in your faith community about the subject of abuse. Work from the bottom up. Then as you do your part, hold top management accountable to do theirs.  1) Expect the BOT to know about this subject. Communicate to them that you expect them to model good leadership when it comes to the subject of abuse.  2) Expect better leadership from the denominational offices. Tell them that you are watching them and you want to see competence and integrity in their work about addressing abuse in our churches.   3) Expect your CIC to take the lead about understanding abuse in your classis. Insist they offer abuse training for pastors and classis delegates when they meet in the spring and fall. Tell them you expect competence if/when abuse allegations come forward in your classis. We must insist on “work from the top down.” The recent task force report is missing one thing: YOU! Get involved and do something about the abuse that is happening in your church. Judy De Wit  

Dear Readers:

 

Leadership in the context of addressing cases of abuse is no easy task.  Within the resistance for pastors and church leaders to address abuse allegations is the reality that many need the acceptance and approval of their colleagues.  What this means is that pastors worry about how speaking up for the complainant may hurt their name and reputation in their church, classis, or faith community.  Failing to get involved when someone has been harmed by the church says pastors and church leaders would rather ignore, avoid, and minimize someone else’s abuse experience then to stand for what is right.  Poor self-esteems cannot be a part of CRC leadership.

 

Dare to stand alone.  Dare to be a voice for victims who have been abused by the church.  Dare to risk your own fame and fortune for the sake of doing what is right.

 

 

Judy De Wit

Dear Readers: The need to broaden the definition of abuse is here. I say this because abuse by church leaders is more than the narrow understanding of sexual and physical abuse. I suggest that the CRC look to broaden the definition of abuse (when it occurs between a church leader and another adult) to be: ·         Emotional or verbal abuse·         Emotional affair·         Abuse of power in the form of: boundary violations, breaching confidentiality, false allegations, failure to follow proper process, unethical behavior, illegal activity, fraud, defamation, libel, slander, sexual misconduct, child abuse, clergy malpractice, invasion of privacy, and undue influence  Any of the above done by a pastor or church leader to another is abusive. Let’s stop allowing leadership to treat others badly and let’s start calling abuse – abuse- and bring it to an end in our churches and faith communities. Judy De Wit