Church gets tough on child sex abuse

PRESBYTERIANS must be willing to recognise that sexual abuse can occur within the Church, according to a major report which is being presented to the General Assembly next week.

The report from the Board of Social Witness emphasises that the Church desires to prevent such abuse and urges members to "learn to create environments that foster healthy relationships and sound leadership."

It further states: "Educational programmes are a necessity and must be initiated and supported by all parts of the Church.

"The Church will continue to promote the healing of the person or persons scarred as a result of sexual abuse and consider if, or how, ministry which has been damaged may be most effectively renewed."

In 1996, the Church issued Child Protection Guidelines to help raise awareness of the need for its agencies "to adhere to high standards of practice in their care of children and young people."

The latest report to the General Assembly confirms that these guidelines were updated this year and states that all congregations should now have in place a Child Protection Policy and relevant procedures.

It emphasises that "This policy provides additional information on the handling of complaints of sexual abuse against ministers and others in positions of leadership, including referral to statutory authorities, pastoral care and suspension arrangements."

The report underlines that within the Presbyterian Church "sexual abuse of any kind by church leaders, staff or volunteers, will not be tolerated."

It further states that "because of the serious consequences of sexual abuse, the Church will make every effort to ensure that such abuse does not occur within its jurisdiction. When complaints of sexual abuse arise, the Church will respond with seriousness, sensitivity and concern for all involved."

The Board of Social Witness has tabled a resolution to the Assembly asking it to welcome the latest edition of the Church's Child Protection Guidelines and that it should encourage every congregation to review regularly its procedure in the light of these guidelines.

The Assembly is also being asked to approve and adopt the Church's policy and procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse and harassment.