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New Guidelines for Abuse Cases Proposed

A report coming to Synod 2010 recommends that when an abuse allegation is brought against a leader of a Christian Reformed church, pastoral care for all the parties involved needs to be an immediate priority, along with financial provisions for abuse-related counseling.

The report proposes revisions to the CRC’s existing guidelines for handling abuse allegations, and it makes many recommendations.

When an abuse claim is brought forward, the report says the church council should immediately appoint someone accountable to the elders to ensure that the pastoral needs of all the parties (the claimant, the accused, their families, and the congregation) are addressed.

The report recommends that financial resources for abuse-related counseling be developed as a diaconal response, regardless of any future claims that may be filed. Those financial provisions could include a group of churches pooling their funds, or congregations making an arrangement with a local counseling agency.

The report also recommends that the principles of restorative justice be applied when appropriate, as opposed to a strictly adversarial approach to seeking justice for the victim.

Synod should also urge churches to review their abuse-prevention policies and liability coverage annually, and council members should participate in yearly training on topics such as the complexities of abuse situations, the report states.

For the denomination’s part, the report recommends the development of new educational resources, including a handbook that clearly describes the roles and responsibilities of church council members when allegations of sexual abuse by a church leader arise.

The denomination has had guidelines for responding to abuse allegations since 1997, and this report recommends several changes to them. The proposed revisions include a more detailed description of what is included in the definition of sexual misconduct.

The proposed revised guidelines state that when a panel is assembled to hear and evaluate allegations, the standard of proof should be that the testimony “more likely than not” supports the allegations.

If a local council takes no action, such as imposing church discipline against a leader when warranted, or acts contrary to an abuse panel’s recommendations, the proposed guidelines now include a provision that the panel chairperson can seek intervention from either the church visitors (representatives of classis) or the classis itself. That means a local council cannot ignore or bury allegations against its pastor if a regional panel has found those allegations to be serious and probable.

Synod 2010 meets in June, and its delegates will decide whether to adopt the recommendations proposed.

The full “Abuse Victims Task Force” report is available at www.crcna.org under Resources/Synod. It is also contained in the Agenda for Synod 2010, which is provided in print to every congregation.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

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