A report received by the Christian Reformed Church’s Board of Trustees calls on the denomination to improve its response when leaders of the church sexually abuse parishioners.
The report was requested by Synod 2006 in response to the case of Wesley Heersink. Heersink appealed to synod looking for justice after being sexually abused by his Cadet counselor when he was a boy. There was no process in place at the time to deal with Heersink’s case, but synod was moved to ask for a report to study how the denomination should respond, financially and otherwise, to abuse cases, including those like Heersink’s.
Heersink died shortly after that synod, but his legacy may live on if the recommendations of this report are adopted.
The report calls for churches to provide better and more specific pastoral care for victims and their families, including offering support resources without waiting for the requests from the victim and family.
The report adds that alleged offenders and their families also need better pastoral care, noting that offenders are often judged prematurely and are not ministered to effectively. The spouse and children of those charged with abuse should not be overlooked either.
The report also calls for victims to receive financial reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical and psychological treatment related to the abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred. It recommends that the offender’s church at the time of the abuse be responsible for that reimbursement.
The authors of the report point out that many churches in the denomination may be unaware of the financial implications and obligations they could encounter should an abuse allegation against a church leader who is or was a member of their fellowship come to light. “Churches must regularly review and consider their abuse-prevention policies as well as their liability insurance,” the report states.