Tue | Apr 23, 2019

Betty-Ann Blaine | No place for paedophiles in church

Published:Wednesday | March 20, 2019 | 12:13 AM
Betty-Ann Blaine

The recent case of the Kingston pastor charged with rape, a variety of sexual crimes, and impregnating a 12-year-old girl has once again cast a glaring and damning spotlight on the Church at a time when sexual crimes against children are increasing and safe havens decreasing.

Sadly, the Jamaican Church is among many. Across the globe, and especially in the United States, stories, accusations, and charges of sexual abuse of children involving pastors and priests, particularly those connected with the Roman Catholic Church, continue to abound.

It is now clear to believers like myself that Christendom, and, in our immediate case, the Jamaican Church, must not only be held accountable in the strictest terms, but must provide answers and solutions regarding the protection and promotion of the welfare and well-being of the nation’s children.

To put it bluntly, children should be safest in church. Full stop.

If the Church cannot protect children, it should make that fact clear so that there are no uncertainties and ambiguities, and so that those of us who are responsible for their care and protection can arm them with the same tools and safeguards we use to protect them from predators and paedophiles in the general society.

Some denominations are getting the message and attempting to do something about it. Others don’t seem to care or are living in denial.

Among the more concerned and enlightened groups are the Seventh-day Adventists, the United Church of Jamaica and The Cayman Islands, the Anglican Church, the Moravians, the Pastoral Intervention Commission, headed by Bishop Alvin Bailey, and some smaller bodies here and there. All these denominations have educated and trained their members and have introduced child-protection policies (CPPs) across their networks, or are making attempts to do so.

CHURCHES ARE EASY PREY

The fact is that churches are easy prey, and child molesters are fully aware of it. Paedophiles know that there is a pool of potential victims – trusting children with reverence and respect for the adults with whom they interact, especially the pastor himself.

Child predators and paedophiles also know that churches are usually desperate for volunteers and, for the most part, do not have formal recruitment or screening systems and processes. Some offenders consider churchfolk to be naïve and reluctant to embrace any type of change in the way things are done in their churches.

Then there are church members themselves who say, “Not in our church” or, “It can’t happen to us.” It is that type of thinking that leaves the door wide open for people with bad intentions to infiltrate and entrench themselves into church life and the church community.

But it’s not just about ignorance and inadequacies or who’s coming into church from the outside. There is a long-standing and deep-seated culture of collusion, complicity and cover-ups that not only enables the sexual abuse of children, but perpetuates the practice.

In one of the cases last year involving the head pastor of a church, it was reported that several members of the church hierarchy had known about the offences but kept quiet for years. The time has come for the Church to do its own house cleaning.

In the same way that churches are now considered to be like non-governmental organisations, with certain obligations and requirements by law, they should be mandated to adopt CPPs. It should not be optional. In the meantime, voluntary CPP implementation should be embraced by churches for more reasons than one.

First and foremost is the fact that CPPs are rooted in the premise that the Church is safe haven for children, underpinned by Jesus’ words: “ ... But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

CPPs dictate that the Church is a community of trust where “children can grow in faith, practise their God-given gifts, and flourish, and a sanctuary where children find protection, support, guidance, and the presence of God”.

WELL-BEING AND INTEGRITY OF THE CHURCH

Second, there is the issue of the well-being and integrity of the Church itself. Not only must Church be the spiritual and moral leader, it must be the proactive protector of children, setting the standards and continually raising awareness within the wider society.

Given the severity of the problem, I strongly believe that churches must now mount and sustain a campaign of zero tolerance of child sexual abuse and ensure that the message is spread across their well-covered geographical locations islandwide. The need to rebuild public confidence is paramount, and a message that restores the faith and trust of children, mandatory.

The zero-tolerance campaign must make it clear that there is no place for paedophiles in the Church, whether the person is a pastor, a priest or a member sitting in the pews. Those adults with unnatural and unhealthy sexual desires for children ought to know that there is no room for them amongst the flock of children.

Experts tell us that paedophilia is incurable, which is why in certain jurisdictions, convicted child sexual abusers are placed on a sex offenders’ registry so that their whereabouts are known to the community at all times. The logic is that you can’t cure them, but you can protect the children from them.

When all is said and done, unless and until the Jamaican Church has in place all the systems and safeguards to protect children, there can be no place for paedophiles at any level of the institution.

For those who may ask, so what about redemption and forgiveness?

The answer, it seems to me, ought to be between God and the offender, especially in light of Jesus’ warning. For now, the Church’s job, in my view, is to keep our young ones safe at all costs.

Betty-Ann Blaine is a child advocate and founder of Hear The Children’s Cry and Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.