Statement of Policy Regarding Sexual Misconduct by Members of the Clergy
by Kathye Hamm
With the recent and ongoing news coverage about systemic sexual abuse and a culture of denial and cover up in the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Pennsylvania, I thought it would be helpful to review the practices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and specifically, the Policy of our synod — Policy 99 – 001– Statement of Policy Regarding Sexual Misconduct by Members of the Clergy and Rostered Laypersons Not Employed by the Synod. Selected portions of this policy are below:
“The Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is committed to preventing sexual misconduct within the Church and to responding with justice and compassion when such misconduct occurs. This Statement of Policy is intended to provide guidance in dealing with allegations or admissions of sexual misconduct by clergy and laypersons rostered, but not employed, by the Synod.
The Synod recognizes that responding to allegations of sexual misconduct requires determination, sensitivity, flexibility, and respect for all persons affected, including the complainant, the rostered person, their families and friends, the congregation, the Synod, and the whole church. This policy is intended to provide guidance in dealing with these cases while preserving the Synod’s discretion to treat each person and each case in accordance with the Synod’s understanding of the differing facts, circumstances, and needs of those affected.
The Synod’s role is essentially twofold. First, the bishop is responsible for providing pastoral care and leadership to the Synod’s congregations and rostered persons. Reports of sexual misconduct invariably create an acute need for such care and leadership. Second, rostered persons who commit sexual misconduct may be disciplined, leading to possible removal from the roster of the ELCA. The bishop is primarily responsible for overseeing the preliminary or consultation stage of the disciplinary process and may initiate the formal stage of the disciplinary process.
Anyone who knows or suspects that a rostered person may have been involved in sexual misconduct should report that knowledge or suspicion to the bishop or designated assistant to the bishop. A contact may be made with the bishop or designated bishop’s assistant by mail, by telephone, or in person. The complainant need not identify herself or himself when she or he first contacts the Synod. The complainant may anonymously ask questions about how the Synod would respond to a particular complaint of misconduct. However, the Synod can do little about a complaint of sexual misconduct until the complainant identifies herself or himself and the rostered person involved in the misconduct.
The bishop or designated bishop’s assistant contacted by the complainant may:
- assure the complainant that the Synod does not tolerate sexual misconduct and takes seriously all complaints of such misconduct;
- explain the Synod’s process for responding to complaints of sexual misconduct and offer to provide a copy of this Statement of Policy;
- answer the complainant’s questions about the policies and procedures of the Synod;
- express care and concern for the complainant;
- when the complainant is anonymous, encourage the complainant to identify herself or himself and the rostered person involved in the misconduct.
In all meetings with Synod personnel, the complainant may be accompanied by a friend, family member, support person, or advocate of her or his choice.
If the bishop or bishop’s designated assistant learns that a child or vulnerable adult may have been neglected or physically or sexually abused, the bishop or bishop’s designated assistant may in certain instances be legally required to report that information to law enforcement authorities. If possible, the complainant will be notified before such a report is made.
The bishop or bishop’s designated assistant will discuss with the complainant her or his needs for pastoral care or professional counseling. If the complainant requests, the bishop or bishop’s designated assistant will help to put the complainant in touch with persons who can provide such care or counseling. Under no circumstances will any employee of the Synod function as the complainant’s advocate, pastor, or counselor.
The bishop or bishop’s designated assistant will appoint a contact person within the Synod. That contact person (who may be the bishop or bishop’s designated assistant) will keep in regular contact with the complainant and will also be available to respond to the complainant’s questions and concerns about the process.”
The entire policy can be found on our synod’s website: Policy 99-001 — Statement of Policy Regarding Sexual Misconduct, which also includes affirmations for adequate training on boundaries for pastoral leaders in seminary and beyond. Our synod is committed to receiving and promptly dealing with all complaints regarding sexual misconduct by rostered leaders. This is not a concern that is limited to the Roman Catholic Church – clergy sexual misconduct has occurred in every denomination, including our own. It is my hope and prayer that by raising this issue here, those who may need to share concerns now or in the future will trust our synod’s resolve to respond with compassion and care for victims and conviction in dealing appropriately with abusers.
Please hold in prayer all who have been victimized and those who are seeking justice for these victims and the prevention of all such abuse in the future.
May 14, 2019