Responding to Sexual Abuse in Church Settings

Upon my election as Anglican Bishop of Tasmania in 2000, I began to hear the stories of people who had suffered child sexual abuse. At my first media conference I apologised to all victims of child sexual abuse.

As the crisis of the church’s failure to respond to child sexual abuse unfolded, I met more and more survivors, reports of abuse appeared in the media and a growing suspicion of clergy was palpable. I was out of my depth and in urgent need of guidance.

God’s gift to the Diocese in this darkest hour was an intelligent, wise and experienced advisor. Without her guidance I would have been at a loss. Despite my best intentions I would have compounded the pain of the survivors who came to see me.

My advisor wishes to remain anonymous but has agreed to make available to you the fruit of her experience and reflection in assisting churches to be better prepared to deal with the complex and varied issues involved when responding to child sexual abuse.

In the pages of her article, Responding to sexual-abuse-in-church-settings is difficult, you will find Spirit-given insight beyond our superficial understanding of this devastating tragedy. You will be led to a deeper appreciation of the issues confronting congregations and denominational leaders as we seek to respond to survivors and offenders and above all protect children.

While this is not an easy read, nor an academic article, church leaders and those training for leadership would be well advised to be forewarned by reading this article well before sexual abuse impacts their churches. Otherwise leaders can easily fall into the trap of starting their response using and relying upon their normal pastoral practices, not realising that when the issue is child sexual abuse, some of those common pastoral practices and mind sets have  led to great additional harm to children, victims and congregations. You will find a great deal of practical help here.

The author also reminds us: This (article) is not meant to distract from your obligations to comply with government legislation, inform police or follow your denomination’s protocols.

Make sure you know current government legislation and reporting requirements in your state or territory!

To bishops who attended the Bishop’s Conference 2019, and received a copy of my adaptation of her material, the following is the  author’s material that I used as the foundation for that version you received. There are some variations including layout,  but everything that was in my version is also contained here.

May God help us to keep the child at the centre of all we undertake.

See also, ‘St Mark’s Review, Remembering our Future: response to the Royal Commission’ which offers constructive proposals for how Australian churches might respond to the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that were handed down earlier this (2018) year).

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