Sunday, February 16, 2014

Rebuilding trust, one victim at a time

If a church does its job right, there are no victims.

Youth pastor Shaun Michael Ross left a mess in his wake. Calvary Assembly Church is Walkersville is struggling to make things right and rebuild trust. I'm happy to hear this. People and institutions need a chance to heal.

My problem with this case is simple. When an allegation of abuse surfaced, the way it was investigated was wrong. I think the best way the church can rebuild trust is conduct itself with integrity and hold itself to an appropriate standard of conduct. Let's look at how the incident was reported in this story.

Kenney said that when he discovered his colleague was having sex with a student from their youth group, he "called Shaun Ross into my office and he and I sat down, talked to the witness, and at that time he admitted to doing this heinous act."

After the church learned of the allegations, Kenney fired Ross and "the church fully cooperated with the Maryland State Police investigation and reported the allegations to the District Council and General Council of the Assemblies of God."

Pastor John Kenney investigated the alleged crime himself before reporting it to authorities. He then confronted the witness with the accused youth pastor present. After Shaun Ross admitted to raping a teen from his youth group, the church cooperated with authorities after first firing Ross. I assume this means that Ross was reported after admitting guilt and after being fired. If so, every step of the process was wrong.

What should have happened? The church should have a process that protects victims and witnesses. The church should act to protect the weak first and should always keep in mind that by talking to a person accused of a crime, they are allowing that person to start the process of destroying evidence, seeking retribution, or causing some other type of damage. The right thing to do is to pick up the phone and call the authorities. The church can always suspend the accused pastor pending its own investigation. 

Pastor Kenney seems to think rebuilding trust has something to do with vaguely reassuring the victims everything will be okay. I assert there is more to do. Show the victims how you will protect them from predators in the future. Show them your controls. Teach them how to be active participants in assuring their own safety. Show them your program. You have a program, right?