From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Dallas church voices support for abuse victims

Date 4 Dec 2002 09:01:24 -0500

Note #7531 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Dallas church voices support for abuse victims

Dallas church voices support for abuse victims

Highland Park PC to host 'wholeness and healing' prayer service

by John Filiatreau

LOUISVILLE - The session of Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas has
issued a statement expressing support and "caring compassion" for the victims
of child-sex-abuse incidents involving a former staff minister.

The 5,000-member Dallas church also invited the victims to "come and share
their tragic experiences with a group of officers, and to participate in a
"special service of prayer for wholeness and healing" at 6 p.m. on Dec. 4 in
the Wynne Chapel at the church.

An independent investigating committee reported that the Rev. William Pruitt,
now deceased, molested at least 20 children from Presbyterian families while
serving as a missionary in the Congo between 1946 and 1978, and later abused
at least four others while working at Highland Park as associate pastor.

When Pruitt died, in August 1999, Grace Presbytery was investigating charges
filed against him in December 1998 by eight abuse survivors. Later, the
executive committee of the General Assembly Council appointed a five-member
Independent Committee of Inquiry (ICI) to investigate the allegations against
Pruitt and recommend ways of helping the victims and guarding against such
abuse in the future.

In its report, released in early November, the ICI documented two incidents
of child molestation at Highland Park and four others that it said took place
during "pastoral calls" at members' homes. The Rev. Ruth Reinhold, an
associate pastor at Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church in Walnut Creek, CA, and
a spokeswoman for survivors, said then that the victims felt that the
Highland Park cases had been given short shrift.

"We know there are more there who have been abused," Reinhold said, "and we
haven't felt like the congregation there has been open to the truth."

In its statement, the Highland Park session said it wanted to "express its
caring compassion" for victims and "for the theological and spiritual manner
in which the ICI performed its difficult task."

"It is difficult to imagine the pain, mistrust and alienation these women
must have felt and continue to feel," it continued. "This session ... seeks
in an outpouring of loving support to assist the healing process for each
individual. HPPC does not condone any type of abuse, physical, sexual or
emotional ... (and) is continuing to take significant steps to assure that
every child and young adult in its care will be safe from molestation and

The session said resources "for reporting abuse and finding support for any
who have been abused" are available at the church and through its Web site -

Its statement concludes: "With the death of Mr. Pruitt, the time for
retributive justice has passed; the opportunity for restorative healing for
those victimized continues."

In a letter dated Nov. 1 and mailed to all Highland Park members, the
church's pastor, the Rev. Ronald W. Scates, wrote: 

"The recent release of the (ICI) report ... in regard to former staff member
and missionary, Bill Pruitt, has generated deep and confused feelings among
many of us. Although the report found no fault with HPPC and confirms that
its pastoral staff had no knowledge of Mr. Pruitt's misconduct, your session
believes that the public release of this report warrants a public response
from HPPC in order that we might play a key role in bringing the Lord's
grace, redemption, power, and healing to the lives of all who have been
wounded over the years."

Scates also informed members: "Your session has asked its steering council to
meet with some of the victims, to listen to their stories, to pray with them,
and to extend to them the love and care of our congregation. It is our hope
that needed healing, reconciliation and closure might be the result of this

The pastor said the Dec. 4 service would be "for anyone who wishes to join in
prayer for the comfort and healing of victims of abuse, and that the Lord
would redeem this painful chapter in the life of HPPC, the PC(USA), God's
world mission enterprise, and the larger Church of Jesus Christ."

Reinhold, the survivors' spokeswoman, said she is "glad that Highland Park
has taken this step" and "happy about the prayer service and the church's
offer to help other people." She said she is sure that all the survivors
would be "supportive of their efforts."

Reinhold said she had not seen the Highland Park letter or statement until
this week, but "had heard inklings" from other survivors who had seen them.

She said HPPC's statements of support and openness about the abuse reflect "a
nice change of policy," noting that Scates is "a new pastor" at Highland
Park. He accepted the call to the Dallas church in 2000.

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