Speaking OUT to end clergy sexual misconduct.

Rule #1 in preventing clergy sexual abuse: don’t hire offenders. But how can we tell who they are? Many potential offenders don’t even know themselves, and those who do are hardly going to share their dark truth with a hiring committee.

Last month I highlighted a resource of The Episcopal Church, a model policy aimed at preventing sexual exploitation of adults. The policy includes a sample interview that could identify potential offenders. It’s an excellent tool that could help all faith communities, so I’m sharing it on this blog. The interview starts soft but eventually gets to hard questions about the candidate’s professional, civil, and criminal record. To encourage truthful responses, interviewers may want to begin the interview by saying, “We’ll be doing a standard background check, of course, but these questions will help us understand better how you might handle challenging situations as our pastor.”

According to the Church Pension Group of the Episcopal Church, here are the questions that could help protect congregants and staff against clergy sexual exploitation.

1. Please tell me about the last time a member of your (congregation, youth group, office staff, etc.) demanded too much of your time. How did you handle that?

2. Please give an example of a time in your work or volunteer history when you thought the policies were too rigid. How did you handle that?

3. Please describe a time when you felt a special bond or friendship between yourself and a member of your (congregation, youth group, office staff, etc.).

4. Please give an example of a “boundary violation.” Has that ever happened to you, or has anyone ever said that you violated a boundary of some sort?

5. Has disciplinary action of any sort ever been taken against you by a licensing board, professional association, ecclesiastical body or educational or training institution? Have there been complaints against you that did not result in discipline? Are there complaints pending against you before any of the above-named bodies? If yes, please explain.

6. Have you ever been asked to resign or been terminated by a training program or employer? If yes, please explain. 

7. Have you ever had a civil suit brought against you about your professional work or is any such action pending? Have you ever had professional malpractice insurance suspended or revoked for any reason? If yes, please explain.

8. Have you ever been charged (formally or informally) with any ethics violations, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse or sexual harassment? Are any such actions or complaints pending against you? If yes, please explain.

9. Are you now or have you ever had sexual contact or attempted sexual contact (sexual intercourse of any kind, intentional touching, or conversation for the purpose of sexual arousal) with any person you were/are seeing in any professional context or in a pastoral relationship (i.e. parishioner, client, patient, employee, student)? If yes, please explain.

10. Are you now or have you ever been involved in the production, sale, or distribution of pornographic materials? If yes, please explain.

11. Have you ever had a restraining order, injunction, order for protection or the like issued against you? Have you ever had your parental rights restricted, suspended or terminated or have any of your children ever been in foster care? Have you ever been accused of domestic violence? If so, please explain.

These questions, and the entire model policy, were developed by the Church Pension Group and the Nathan Network for The Episcopal Church. Please note that commercial use of this sample interview, or of the Model Policy, is prohibited by the church’s copyright. To order copies or for more information, please visit the CPG website.

Comments on: "How to Screen Out Potential Offenders" (2)

  1. M.E. Dunham said:

    How recently was this policy written/established? In 2001 or 2002, when William Swing was Bishop, the Diocese of CA “received as a priest” a former ELCA pastor with a well-documented history of abuse. It appears that the new priest may have been received with some “restrictions”; for example, being prohibited from serving as rector in a parish.

  2. Thank you for this great question. By the time this model policy was published, the Episcopal Church had been working on this issue for a long time. In 1991, the General Convention “declared that sexual abuse, exploitation, coercion, and harassment of adults and minors by clergy and church employees are abuses of trust, a violation of the Baptismal Covenant, contrary to Christian Character, and are therefore wrong.” In 1999 the Church surveyed all dioceses to try to identify a few policies they could hold up as best practices for the rest of the church. They found none, so they developed The Model Policy for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Adults. It was never adopted as official church policy; it was simply offered as a resource to dioceses. At the General Convention of 2006, the church agreed that all dioceses must develop an effective policy based on the Model Policy, and that each diocese must help its congregations develop their own policies.
    When Bishop Swing allowed a former ELCA offender to enter his diocese as a priest, he may not have been violating actual church policy. Still — even if that priest never offended again — the bishop made the wrong decision. By allowing a documented abuser to come in as a priest, he put at risk anyone who received any sort of ministry from that priest. Unfortunately, church leaders continue to make this kind of mistake, and people continue to get hurt. That’s why I, and many other survivor/advocates, continue to speak up on this issue.

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