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.