From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Survey finds dioceses addressing sexual misconduct

Date 18 Apr 2000 15:37:21


Survey discovers dioceses are addressing issues of sexual

by James Solheim

     (ENS) A survey of nearly all the church's dioceses reveals
high levels of attention to issues of sexual misconduct--and
policies and procedures to handle allegations of sexual
exploitation and child abuse.

     The survey was conducted under the auspices of the Office
of Pastoral Development and the Executive Council's
Committee on Sexual Exploitation with responses from 90 of
the 103 dioceses surveyed. Bishop Clay Matthews, director
of the Office of Pastoral Development, said that it is "gratifying
to see that nearly all the dioceses of the Episcopal Church are
addressing the problem of sexual misconduct by instituting
programs to increase awareness of the problem and to prevent
its occurrence, and by implementing diocesan policies and
procedures in response to Title IV," the church's disciplinary

     The committee was formed in 1991 to address "long-
ignored signs of brokenness and abuse," spurred by some very
expensive insurance settlements. In 1994 the General
Convention adopted sweeping changes in the canons that
deal with misconduct.

     The Executive Council authorized the survey "to discover
what we are doing as a Christian community to move our
churches toward being safer places." Dr. Mary Meader of
Massachusetts was the project director, assisted by Elizabeth
Bishop, a licensed clinical social worker.

     The research concluded that there has been considerable
progress towards an awareness of the issue in the church
and establishing procedures to deal with misconduct, although
there are substantial variations among the dioceses, depending
on size and resources.

     Responses to the survey also uncovered some reservations
about the canons, noting that they are difficult to implement and
that the "adversarial nature" does not always mesh with
the "pastoral needs of a given situation." There was not a clear
understanding that the canons are needed when "pastoral
efforts fail to bring resolution."

     Some who responded also complained that there is still
resistance among bishops and clergy "may fear violating a
collegiality code, false accusations, family destruction, job loss
and humiliation, or disturbing the equilibrium of parish or
diocesan life, all of which contribute to continued denial in
some dioceses."

     The survey urged the church to reflect on the theology of
reconciliation, how a person who is guilty of sexual misconduct
or abuse can "move through admission of sin to repentance, to
amendment of life and therefore forgiveness and atonement."

--James Solheim is director of the Office of News and
Information for the Episcopal Church.

For more information contact:
Episcopal News Service
Kathryn McCormick

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