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.