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January 18, 2011 - 

How much does a church owe to a person abused by one of its leaders?

Synod 2006 will face that question when it hears an appeal of a decision made by Classis Rocky Mountain. At issue is the case of a man who alleges he was sexually abused between the ages of 13 and 15 by his Cadet counselor at Alamosa ( Colo.) Christian Reformed Church in the early 1970s.

The church has not disputed that the perpetrator, now deceased, admitted to his actions and resigned as a Cadet counselor. No local authorities were notified.

But the victim, now 48, says the damage done by the abuse has left him destitute, homeless, and totally disabled, suffering from a failed marriage, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder that make him unable to handle full-time employment.

An abuse-response panel hearing was conducted by Alamosa CRC with the aid of classis Rocky Mountain. The panel’s recommendations included letters of apology from the church to all the victims, full disclosure to the congregation, payment of the victim’s health insurance and other related costs, and admission of moral responsibility for past actions.

According to the victim’s appeal to synod, the church paid six months of health-insurance premiums for him and gave him $400 in benevolent funds, totaling nearly $2,000. He is seeking $925,000 in damages to help him pay for counseling, medical bills, medications, and living expenses until he can collect Social Security at age 65. He also wants an apology that includes admittance of moral responsibility by Alamosa CRC.

The victim appealed to Classis Rocky Mountain, but in March classis ruled that the written and spoken apologies provided by the church are sufficient and that the church’s efforts to provide benevolent support to the victim are sufficient, given the church’s financial situation.

Steve Alsum, a spokesperson for Classis Rocky Mountain on this issue, said the church is willing to continue to help in this way but is not in a financial position to help more. “Once informed of the situation, the council did everything it should,” Alsum said.

The classis did offer to provide $8,000 in benevolent support to the church in order to assist the victim unless he appealed the decision.

The victim is appealing the decision to Synod 2006. In June, a hearing will be conducted by the denomination’s nine-member Judicial Code Committee. A Judicial Code hearing guarantees the rights of all parties involved and regulates evidence and legal representation for them. After the hearing, the committee will make its recommendations in the case to the delegates of synod.

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