• Key point: A pedophile’s assertion that he has experienced a religious conversion and as a result no longer poses a threat to children need not be accepted by the civil courts.
• A Wisconsin court ruled that the revocation of a convicted child molester’s probation on the basis of his failure to participate in a treatment program did not violate his constitutional right to religious freedom. The molester was convicted of first degree sexual assault on a child. He later admitted to having molested 5 other female children (4 of whom were under 10 years of age). As a result of his conviction, the molester was sentenced to 8 years in prison. Rather than serving his prison sentence, the molester was allowed to participate in a supervised probation that included professional treatment. A few months after beginning a treatment program, the molester insisted that because of his recent conversion to Christianity he no longer was having sexually deviant fantasies about children and no longer needed treatment. A psychologist tested the molester and found that he was most aroused sexually by pictures of nude 4-year-old girls followed by girls between 8 and 12 years of age. The psychologist concluded that the molester still had a strong sexual attraction to children, and posed a danger to the community. The molester was assigned to two other treatment programs, but was terminated from both of them for his failure to cooperate. The directors of both programs concluded that the molester was “at very high risk of re-offending given his abusive history and his current denial patterns.” The molester continued to insist that he was not in need of treatment because his sexual attraction to children was no longer a problem for him because of his religious faith. He also claimed that the treatment programs that were offered to him involved techniques that forced him to think about his deviant behavior and the effects it had on others, and that this approach violated his religious principles. On the basis of the molester’s failure to successfully pursue treatment, his probation was revoked and he was ordered to begin his prison sentence. The molester appealed this decision, arguing that it violated his constitutional right to religious freedom. A state appeals court disagreed. It noted that convicted felons do not enjoy the same degree of constitutional protections as other citizens, and that the state had adequately attempted to accommodate the molester’s religious beliefs by trying to find a treatment program that would not offend those beliefs. The court concluded that “the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that [the molester] posed a significant danger to children in the community because of his likelihood to engage in deviant sexual behavior with children if he remained untreated.
This case illustrates a very important point—church leaders should be extremely cautious in accepting a known child molester’s claim that he no longer poses a risk to children because of his religious faith. The molester in this case claimed that he no longer was a risk to children because of his religious conversion, yet testing demonstrated that he was still strongly attracted sexually to young children. The sad truth is that pedophiles (those who molest younger children) rarely are cured, and continuously present a significant risk to children. At a minimum, church leaders should never permit a known pedophile to work in any capacity in the church involving contact with minors—no matter how long ago the acts of child molestation occurred and no matter how vigorously the individual insists that he no longer is sexually attracted to children. Remember this—church leaders have a sacred as well as a legal duty to protect the lives of children who participate in the church’s programs. This duty supersedes any tendency that church leaders may have to give the molester a “second chance.” This case illustrates the attitude of the civil courts to claims by pedophiles that their religious faith has delivered them from any sexual attraction to children. Church leaders must pay special attention to the implications of this ruling. Von Arx v. Schwarz, 517 N.W.2d 540 (Wis. App. 1994).
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