Louisville, Kentucky – The report of the Task Force on Survivors of Sexual Misconduct was reviewed by the Health, Safety and Benefits Committee of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) during their third and last day of meeting. It was a day of contrasts as the committee heard the moving stories of survivors of sexual abuse, then turned to the detailed discussion of church policy and discerned how best to include the recommendations of the working group in the order book. All who spoke – commissioners, delegate-advisors and resource people – were in complete agreement with the intention to ensure the training, empowerment and protection of individuals in the order book. The question was how to do this in a way that is consistent and respects Presbyterian policy.
The case began with Carol Howard Merritt, chair of the Survivors of Sexual Misconduct Task Force, outlining the task force’s goal of strengthening the church’s response to reports of sexual misconduct and asking ” how can we do better?”. She also shared her own family’s story of clergy sexual abuse. Task Force member Kristopher Schondelmeyer also shared his story of sexual abuse by a church leader at a national Presbyterian Church (USA) event and the long-term trauma it left behind. in his life. He added that he was the leader of the working group on the order book changes and is ready to respond to policy questions and responses from the Constitution Advisory Committee (ACC).
Committee moderator David Ammons recommended that the eight individual recommendations of the item HSB-05: Survivors of Sexual Misconduct being divided and manipulated one at a time made to standardize the language. It was easier said than done.
Many political points surfaced in the first recommendation to change the order book so that those registered as an investigator or candidate, while remaining a member of their church, would be subject to the concern and discipline of the presbytery. With this recommendation, as well as a similar recommendation, the task force felt that the presbytery is more likely to have the resources to deal carefully with accusations of sexual misconduct and that all parties were also more likely to have an equal audience.
Judy Woods of the ACC commended the task force for bringing these issues before the church, but recommended disapproval of this article as contrary to the structure of the church and the principle of the congregational covenant of love and trust found in G-1.0102. Tim Cargal, assistant clerk for ministry readiness and support, also said an applicant or candidate must be a member of a church and a change in oversight would weaken that requirement.
The commissioners and the delegate-advisors asked several questions of the resource persons. In response to a question, Woods said presbytery resources are available to help congregations and this happens regularly. With regard to checks and balances, she confirmed that there are provisions that allow parties to challenge at each stage. Questions were asked about how the work of this committee would relate to the new disciplinary rules. It has been confirmed that this element does not overlap; this recommendation is in the Form of Government section and not in the Rules of Discipline.
As a result of this discussion, Recommendation 1 was approved as amended to provide that applicants and applicants “shall be subject to the concern and discipline of the presbytery,” specifically in matters of sexual misconduct.
Next, the committee moved on to the three recommendations requiring training on the boundaries of sexual misconduct and the prevention of child sexual abuse. A number of policy issues were raised, including the wording of the working group and the use of terminology not defined in the order book. Additionally, Cargal pointed out that the suggested wording for Ministers of Word and Sacrament was placed as an exit requirement in preparation (G-2.0607e) and not a requirement as applicants and candidates are in the process of preparation (G-2.0603). The working group agreed and the committee took their advice and changed the location of the proposed wording for the process section. Wording was approved for ministers of Word and Sacraments, past commissioned leaders, and a new recommendation, number 9, was added to require boundary training for past leaders. If the amendments to the order book are approved, each such officer will be required to complete boundaries training that “includes the subject of sexual misconduct and prevention of child sexual abuse training with recertification at least every 36 months.”
The committee also considered the unique situation of certified Christian educators. Like Martha Miller, education and ministry support manager at the General Assembly Office, and Emily Chudy, co-moderator of the GA Special Committee to Study the Reformed Perspective of Christian Education in the 21st Century explained, certified Christian educators do not have a simple counseling relationship like other positions.
Among other things, the church they work for need not be in the same parsonage as they are registered as a Certified Christian Educator. In addition to the same wording for the necessary training, it was also added that “the presbytery must submit a certificate of achievement to the national certification body for these two trainings”. As Chudy admitted, these proposed standards are in line with what they want to do with certified Christian educators, but she realizes that ultimately that won’t be fully realized.
It took a lot of discussion and discernment to get the committee to this point, but they found themselves 15 minutes away from the scheduled adjournment. With some guidance from Matthew Schramm, the committee’s deputy, they quickly approved recommendation 7 which was related to resource creation without constitutional implications and disapproved of recommendation 8 because it had been taken up by the rules committee. discipline. Recommendation 5 had been withdrawn before the start of the committee for the same reason. And recommendation 6 was frowned upon earlier as the committee agreed with the ACC that disciplinary proceedings against church members for sexual misconduct should stay with the session and not be automatically referred to the presbytery.
To finish, HSB-09 was answered by action on HSB-05.
After the close of business today, Schondelmeyer shared his thoughts in a statement to the Outlook:
“It has been a privilege to be part of the Sexual Misconduct Survivors Task Force. As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse in the PC (USA) that occurred in my youth, my disclosure and my journey of responsibility and change have not always been well received. My promise to my children is to raise them in a church that is truly a safe and sacred space. Today the Health, Welfare Committee Security and Benefits has voted to send several of the recommendations from the Victims of Sexual Misconduct Task Force to the Plenary which will do just that.
Having passed adjournment by about 15 minutes, most of the committee members thought they were finished and the moderator began to thank them for their service. This was cut short by Lindsay Jacaruso, Commissioner of Minnesota Valleys Presbytery, who proposed a reconsideration of HSB-06. She explained that in the discussions she had had, there was concern that by specifying a minimum duration for family leave – in this case, eight weeks – this specificity could ultimately raise concerns in plenary and the inclusion of family leave in the terms of the appeal would once again be dismissed. The reconsideration motion passed by a vote of 24 to 14, and after some debate, most committee members agreed with her to remove the specific duration. As pointed out, in plenary the action could be modified to add time and this would give an indication of the strength of the recommendation across the body.
And with that, the business of the health, safety and benefits committee was completed. Committee members who could remain gathered for a brief time of worship including communion. The committee’s full report will be presented to the plenary in just over a week.