Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Pastor Cecil Harper Charged

Pastor Cecil Harper is facing a charge of sexual assault. He allegedly attacked a woman who came to him for post-martial counseling. Harper is the pastor at of Mt. Zion Apostolic Church in Mississauga, Canada. Harper is no longer listed on the church website.

In cases like this, I always ask why a pastor is providing martial counseling in the first place. When I visit a doctor, the first thing I check is his credentials. I try to establish if the doctor has the expertise needed to treat my medical conditions. The same level of scrutiny is required of a pastor who is attempting to provide counseling. What professional qualification does the pastor possess? What course of university study did he undertake to give him the knowledge and skill necessary to counsel a person in need? In most cases, the pastor has no professional certification whatsoever. Why would anyone expect a pastor to act like a professional? How could he if he does not know what the standards are for the profession?

I’ve heard the argument, mostly from Catholics, the pastors and priest look after the spiritual lives of their flocks. I can see where this could be true and needed, but I often read about marital counseling, financial counseling, and even counseling for mental problems like depression when looking into abuse cases. I don’t understand why believers think this is a good idea. This type of counseling is best left to a professional therapist.

To protect its members, a  church needs effective policies. Does counseling take place in an observable location? Are sessions planned so that sufficient staff is available to support a counseling session?  Do the counseling rooms have windows so that  other people can observe the process? Is there a counseling policy?
Clergy sexual abuse happens because there is an opportunity for abuse. If you remove the opportunity, you reduce the risk for abuse. It’s that simple.

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