Restoring clergy to ministry after sexual misconduct

Hopkins, Nancy Myer and Laaser, Mark, eds., Restoring the Soul of a Church. Collegeville, Minn: Order of St. Benedict, Inc., 1995, p. 135-137.

Below is a list of 10 conditions necessary for favorable consideration of restoration to active ministry by a recovering clergy sexual offender. The list is not exhaustive; there are likely to be additional issues that arise in specific cases. And even if all are conscientiously fulfilled, they do not guarantee an absolutely risk-free result.

1. The recovering offender admits wrongdoing.

Not infrequently deeper understanding of responsibility for the wrongdoing and the full nature of its impact on self and others, as opposed to a mere superficial admission of guilt, is a process that evolves over time with expert therapeutic assistance.

2. The recovering offender cooperates willingly with an imposed discipline.

“Willing cooperation” may also grow over time. It is important that therapy not be confused or equated with discipline and that there are no unresolved, pending, or anticipated criminal, civil, or ecclesiastical actions involving the clergyperson.

3. The offender participates willingly in individual, family, and/or group therapy, as deemed appropriate.

Formal spiritual direction may also be appropriate. Participation in therapy is often a difficult and painful process. It is normal for participation to be resisted at some points and more willingly sought at others.

4. The recovering offender willingly attempts to make amends to any injured individuals or communities.

Often amends can only be made partially, sometimes not at all or not until some future date. Making amends may always remain a potential action, depending primarily on the timing and needs of any victim(s)and on their circumstances outside the direct control of the offender.

5. The recovering offender gives strong evidence of having learned about his or her own psychological issues and personal psychosexual dynamics.

The actual offending behavior is always connected to other life issues and must be examined and understood in the larger context.

6. The recovering offender understands and cooperates with any safeguards and/or conditions connected with return to the exercise of ministry.

Rarely is a recovering offender restored without some continuing conditions and/or controls for his or her protection as well as for the protection of the community at large.

7. The recovering offender receives an evaluation from an appropriately accredited institution and/or therapist indicating that he or she is not at risk to repeat the offending behavior.

Sometimes this conclusion is reached upon initial evaluation and treatment, sometimes afterwards. Sometimes such an institution or therapist cannot or will not make a clear statement about risk of repeat offense. This evaluation may include but never be exclusively limited to the evaluation of the cleric’s personal therapist. A statement that the risk of repeat offense is high must be considered a major negative factor in coming to any favorable decision about eventual return to ministry. Not infrequently more than one formal evaluation may be indicated. Some church insurers have underwriting guidelines in this as well as in other areas.

8. The “community” in which the recovering offender intends to exercise in ministry is informed as fully as possible about the circumstances of the offense(s) and comes to substantive agreement about the offender’s return to ministry.

People who may receive a recovering offender’s ministry have a right to know as much about the situation as possible, however, protection of innocent persons must always be kept in mind. Presumably, opinions about the recovering offender’s return to ministry will not be unanimous. Though any primary victim(s) of the offender’s ministry will presumably not continue to be recipients of the recovering cleric’s ministry, it is important that such persons be informed and consulted in advance about any intended return to ministry.

9. The recovering offender personally desires to return to the exercise of ministry and understands the issues and problems likely to be connected to that return.

This means that the recovering offender has seriously considered other vocational options and still feels a call to public ordained ministry. The cleric fully recognizes that such a continuing call needs to be affirmed by the Church through appropriate channels for it to be exercised.

10. The recovering cleric has ready access to ongoing support systems and gives evidence of willingness to make regular use of them.

Ongoing support systems are not intended to be merely passive. Support persons seek out ways to give support and care to recovering persons.

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