When church leaders learn a sex offender is in their midst, their response typically is one of the following three:
- Do nothing. They just don't know what to do.
- Total exclusion. They choose a blanket policy prohibiting a registered offender from setting foot on the premise. This is an extreme response, but there may be some cases where this makes sense. For instance, a church may decide not to allow an offender to attend if one or more of their victims also attend. Or a church may decide the offender's crime or crimes are too severe to allow attendance.
- Conditional agreements. This means the church allows a registered offender to attend, subject to certain conditions. This is the most common response by churches. It's an attempt to balance safety and ministry, although it's a nuclear-level risk on your premises because it imposes such an extraordinarily high burden of care on your part to become a guarantor for the offender's good conduct. But churches can achieve that high burden by carefully drafting and following a conditional agreement policy. In a recent free webinar with church leaders by Richard Hammar and Marian Liautaud, Hammar looked more closely at conditional agreements. According to Hammar, a sex offender's attendance agreement can include certain conditions, such as:
- Prohibiting work with minors.
- Prohibiting the transporting of minors.
- Requiring the presence of a chaperone at all times. This doesn't mean the chaperone needs to be handcuffed to the offender. But someone must visually track the offender's whereabouts, including trips to the restroom (the restroom is often where an offense occurs). If more than one chaperone needs to be used to track an offender, make sure there are no gaps in their supervision.
- Revoking the agreement after one violation. It's critical a church not allow a violation of any kind to slide. Such an exception can expose the church to greater liability later, should the offender be accused of an act on church property.
In addition to these conditions, church leaders should consult with their insurer and their attorney.
One final detail to note: When you learn of an offender's presence at the church, require a review of their parole and probation agreements as you begin to work through a plan. In some cases, church attendance isn't allowed.
To go deeper on policies, conditional agreements and other important information related to sex offenders attending church, check out the eBook Integrating Sex Offenders in Faith Communities. Also, the downloadable training resources, Sex Offenders in the Church and Juvenile Offenders in the Church provide practical help, including sample forms and policies.
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