Monday, August 23, 2010

Clergy Sexual Misconduct is Preventable Not Inevitable

This Saturday's Belief Column in the NY Times began:

"Sooner or later, every traditional faith has to confront sexual impropriety by its spiritual leaders: extramarital sex, or sex with the wrong people (members of the congregation, minors) or, for supposedly celibate clergy, any sex at all."


It is NOT inevitable that religious leaders will sexually act sad that we have come to a place where that is viewed as a statement of fact.

Yes, dear readers, I know that there are legions of stories throughout the ages where spiritual leaders have done just that. But it doesn't have to be so.

In our classes and materials, the Religious Institute has defined the characteristics of a sexually healthy religious professional. In part, a sexually healthy religious professional uses power justly and recognizes the potential for the abuse of that power, and knows how to deal with sexual feelings appropriately, recognizing boundaries for relationships with those he or she serves. The Religious Institute recommends that every seminary REQUIRE a course in sexual misconduct prevention for every student studying for the ministry, and that denominations require such a learning experience for every ministerial candidate.

Sexual misconduct by clergy is preventable not inevitable. It's past time for seminaries and denominations and lay leadership to assure it.


Desmond Ravenstone said...

I'd go further and say we also need ...

A) to educate laity to look for the warning signs, and to respond appropriately.

B) for every denomination to create a reliable system for responding to complaints and holding offenders accountable.

Educating future and current clergy works well for the bulk of folks willing and able to learn. But there are also that small percentage who either won't learn or simply don't care whether they hurt people to get what they want. That's where you need deterrence.

Steve Caldwell said...

Debra -- perhaps it's more accurate to say that clergy sexual misconduct is both preventable AND inevitable.

The "inevitable" aspect is due to human imperfection and institutional imperfection that doesn't fully screen out human imperfection in our clergy credentialing.

Also, "preventable" and "inevitable" are not mutually exclusive. We can have very good prevention in place that is not 100% effective which means the possibility of misconduct still exists.