Last month I wrote this post about abuse in the church. If you want more training on this topic, check out this link for our upcoming abuse in the church course.

There once were two churches who found out that a leader had engaged in pastoral sexual abuse. Each church convened a committee to handle the painful process of deciding what to do. The committees needed to act quickly as it was Thursday and the leader was scheduled to preach on Sunday. What would they do? What would they say to the congregation?  The situations in each church were quite sticky since the victim of abuse was well-known to be manipulative and demanding (and not liked) while the leader was respected and considered a gifted, visionary leader.

Committee A began to take up the matter of whether or not they could ever foresee the leader returning to a ministry position. They also considered what they might say to the congregation so as to tamp down anxiety and gossip. Should they send him away to a treatment center? Should they ask the victim to attend another church? A few on the committee were concerned about legal liability exposure. One member wondered whether the leader’s heartfelt written apology should be made public on Sunday. Another wondered whether they could send the leader away on “retreat” for 2 weeks due to the upcoming groundbreaking ceremony on the new church wing. In the end, the committee decided to have one of the elders read a short letter stating that the leader is in need of some personal care over a matter of sexual integrity and has willingly sought help. Part of the letter included the leader’s confession. The congregation should pray for the leader and family but should not engage in gossip or conversation about the matter.

Committee B faced all of the same pressures…and raised many of the same concerns. Yet, one of the members of this committee suggested that they take a few minutes to explore the values they want undergirding all decisions. As they deliberated, a few key values rose to the top: protection of all, love and truth, and pastoral ministry. They determined that legal liability, determination of fault, reputation in the community, and desired outcomes should all be secondary values in comparison to protecting and ministering to victim, offender and congregation as well as speaking the truth in love. The rest of their meeting focused on developing ministry strategies for each party, their families, and the congregation. On Sunday, this committee informed the church of pastoral sexual abuse admitted to by the leader, chose not to report the pastor’s confession (unsure of its actual depth), acknowledged the many confusing and painful questions, and gave pastoral directions on how to handle this period (e.g., why leader abuse is such a serious matter, how to pray, who to talk to, how to use this as an opportunity for self-reflection). In addition, this committee informed the congregation as to the goal of restoration of broken things while being clear that the leader might not return to the church in a leader capacity. 

Abuse always rocks our world and upsets community life. If we fail to identify what core values we want to cling to in a time of crisis, we’re likely to fall prey to reactionary decisions based on self and system protection rather than on truth, love and ministry.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at See also


+3 # shary 2012-03-26 09:15
I am sorry to see that neither church referred this to the local police. The church is not prepared to handle this. People should always be taught to call the police first.
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+2 # Andrew J. Schmutzer 2012-03-26 10:35
I agree with Shary. What Penn State, the Citadel, Syracuse U., and the Catholic Church scandal teach us is how Motivated Blindness results when systems only report 'up the chain.' With abuse it's not church discipline or call police, but both--and not in that order. What survivors know too well is the dark side of loyalty. Legal damage control and holistic victim care are not the same thing. If churches had some wounded on staff they would intuit this.
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+1 # Knitted in the Womb 2012-03-26 12:22
Assuming a crime was committed (that is, the victim was a minor or otherwise considered incapable of giving consent), then yes, Shary is absolutely right, police should have been contacted.
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+2 # shary 2012-03-26 14:08
Even if the person is considered able to give consent, police should be notified. Sexual attackers don't ask for consent for sexual abuse that makes it a crime. Rape is a crime and churches should report them and encourage their people to report them to the police.
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0 # Philip Monroe 2012-03-26 15:21
Good comments all. I am very much in favor of engaging the police and other governmental authorities. In my vignette, I did not reveal the age. However, I did not call it "Pastoral child sexual abuse" for a reason. In a very few states, pastoral sexual abuse of another adult is a crime. But, in most jurisdictions, it is not (sad to say). Thus, in this case--and assuming an adult victim--the church may not have anything they could report or a jurisdiction able to take that report. I'm sorry my vignette didn't make the point (adult victim) more clear!
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+1 # Philip Monroe 2012-03-26 15:23
Shary (2nd comment), I wholly agree that clergy sexual abuse of an adult is an attack. However, many victims see themselves as engaging an affair. While the sexual behavior might not rise to the definition of rape it certain, in my book, rises to the defintion of clergy sexual abuse. Thus, there may be a crime to report despite the abuse.
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+1 # Philip Monroe 2012-03-26 15:25
Andrew, hopefully you see that the goal of the vignettes is to avoid motivated blindness to get to the right values. Of course, value one should be:
1. Was a crime committed? Was it reported to the right authorities?
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