News stories of child molestation in the church cross our desk with alarming regularity. Recently prominent churches in the Midwest and South have been tragically shaken by allegations of criminal sexual conduct. Because of pending litigation and privacy issues, churches are reluctant to share the details of their experiences.
But Leadership Journal came across a story that has run the circuit of accusation, investigation, and resolution. Mike Woodruff obtained permission to write the story of a church on the West Coast that lived through this crisis. As Mike relays the pastor's story, we've interspersed the counsel of Dennis Kasper, an attorney specializing in church crisis management, who comments on the steps necessary in responding to charges of sexual misconduct with a minor.
The pastor's story: Mike Woodruff
Our youth intern is in jail, two boys are in therapy, and one family has left the church. What started out as the renewal of our middle school ministry ended in shameful tragedy.
I had no indication anything was wrong until the day our 25-year-old youth intern, Roy, asked for a meeting with the pastoral staff. As we gathered on that Wednesday afternoon nearly five years ago, our jaws dropped open and our mouths went dry as Roy began confessing inappropriate, make that horrific, actions, including smoking marijuana with a 15-year-old student and renting a hotel room so the two of them could drink beer and watch R-rated movies.
But the worst was yet to come.
Later that week, Roy was arrested on five felony counts of child molestation. Because the youth in question was a member of our church, and because Roy claimed that the molestation charges were false, we were faced with a complicated crisis. The watchful eye of the press ensured the crisis would be public.
The attorney's analysis
In such a situation, several concerns must be kept in mind: the initial crisis response, communication, the ensuing investigation, and resolution, including ministry to the involved parties and their families. Each concern is loaded with legal and spiritual ramifications.
Numerous people are involved: the victim, the victim's family, the accused, the accused's family, witnesses, other students and parents involved in the youth group, the church, the authorities, the media, and the community. Prepared leadership, coupled with wise legal counsel, can manage these concerns.
Woodruff: Roy came to us on an unpaid internship from our denominational seminary. We welcomed him onto our staff after we had contacted previous employers and run a criminal background check, which he passed.