Case study in dealing with molestation accusation in a local church

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Church Law & Tax has a long (3,600 word) article providing a detailed case study of how one church handled an accusation of improper (and illegal) contact between an adult youth worker and a minor in the church.

All pastors and church leaders ought to read the article and file it away.

The article explains how the situation was discovered, evolved, and how the church handled each stage of the crisis.

The most valuable part of the article for me is an attorney discussing the situation at each stage and assessing how the church responded at each step.

The article, from March 2013, is by Church Law & Tax: Breaking Boundaries with Minors.

The attorney strongly recommends local churches develop a crisis response team well in advance of any situation developing. The team needs to be carefully selected and given authority to act. Such a team can be activated to handle any sort of crisis, not just a molestation accusation.

There are a lot of subtleties a church needs to address and a host of legal issues to consider. For example, nonprofits cannot pay the legal fees to defend against a criminal accusation against a staff person. The accused youth worker had to retain his own legal counsel.

Another subtlety is the amount of information people need to know increases when they are more involved in handling the situation and decreases rapidly the further removed from the situation. Thus the crisis response team needs to know everything, remainder of the staff need to know less, the congregation needs to know a few things, and the public needs to know only there is an incident, without details, that is being addressed seriously .

The article provides a superb education on what should be done to handle an allegation. First and most important lesson: get legal counsel.

In addition to the insight and observations by a practicing attorney, one of the most helpful things in the article is it explains an actual case. Sometimes articles on how to handle an incident stay theoretical and don’t seem to be overly helpful as a result.

Also of value is a demonstration of the importance of having informed legal counsel involved. There were many places the church could have gone in a wrong direction which would have created serious problems. With careful assistance they were able to present a horrible situation from getting even worse.

The end of the story is revealing. The youth worker accepted a guilty plea to reduced charges and served one year in prison. Only a few people left the church. The church did not get sued, either by the victim or the accused.

Church leaders ought to read the article and file it away for future use in case such a horrible incident occurs in their congregation.

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