Here we go again.
The Catholic Church has been implicated in yet another sexual abuse scandal. However, this time all levels of leadership are implicated. The Vatican’s former U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, recently accused Pope Francis of covering up Cardinal Theodore McCarrick who resigned in June after allegations surfaced of misconduct and sexual abuse. On August 14, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing alleged sexual abuse of over 1,000 individuals by more than 300 priests. And seemingly, the dioceses knew and actively covered up each incident.
As a church leader in an evangelical, Protestant denomination, I felt like there seems to be a vacuum of thoughtful, sincere input for men and women of the church to consider. I don’t know, maybe some of our pastors and leaders are silently applauding as the Catholic Church is getting another black eye in the media. And perhaps, many others are bracing for the continued erosion of confidence in all religious institutions, Catholic or not.
So with that in mind I have a few thoughts, specifically for the men, women and children that count NorthBridge Church as their spiritual family.
First off, I was not raised within the Catholic Church, but I was part of a community that was thoroughly a Catholic culture. So I get the role of the church in the lives of many adults. I understand how the parish priest was vaulted to an almost celebrity status within the community. And even though, I was not baptized, raised, nor received confirmation within a Catholic Church; there are many people within NorthBridge that would count themselves as Catholic because of family or community ties. Many of our people received some of their first religious instruction within the framework of the Catholic Church.
For you, I imagine that your confidence in the leadership of the Catholic hierarchy has been decimated. I cannot, nor will I, defend these religious leaders. Should future investigations prove that Bishops, Cardinals and even the Vatican have actively covered for these abusive priests; then they should be held accountable both civilly and even criminally.
But please, do not allow your erosion of confidence in a religious organization bleed into a rejection or a loss of confidence in King Jesus and His body known as the Church. Remember, it was a group of people, both human and very, very fallen that committed these crimes and subsequently covered them up. Jesus did not direct nor condone their actions. Also, please remember that the church is far bigger and broader than the leadership within the Catholic Church.
Second, I want to address the parents who entrust your kids into our ministry every week. Speaking as a dad of a four year old, I can say that the safety of our kid’s ministry is vital to me and my family. I drop my son off every week into a loving, safe and fun environment. When I pick him up after our worship, I ask the same two questions, “What did you learn and did you have a good time?”
In order for me to be able to give 100% to my church, I have to have great confidence knowing that my kid is well taken care of. And I know that is the same for you, also. So rest assured. If people are working with our children and youth, they have gone through extensive background screenings. Also, within each department there are rigorous standards that have been set. We will not place a single adult alone in a room with a single child. Are building construction even bears this out. We make sure every kids space has as many windows and entry points to keep these spaces as open and accessible to parents as possible. (And in the midst of this, we maintain a single entry point where strangers or people not involved in our kid’s ministry cannot gain access, all for the protection of our kids.) To date, we have never had an allegation surface within our kid’s ministry and should that happen, we will notify the guardians of the child, the leadership of the church and outside civil authorities to begin the process of dealing with that allegation.
To be clear, since we operate under a multiplicity of leadership within our body, it is impossible for one person to create a cover up of such an important topic as the abuse of a child within our church culture. In other words, a cover-up cannot happen here and it will not happen here. You can be confident in this promise. If abuse is found out within the confines of our church, it will not be hidden. Yes, we will be Biblical in dealing with all people. Yes, we will be sensitive to the victims. But no, it will never be swept under the rug for any reason. You have Pastor John, Dave and Tony’s pledge on this commitment for honesty and transparency.
Thirdly, I would ask our parents to train and teach your children to speak up. In whatever setting, they find themselves, should they be the target of a predator and should any kind of abuse occur, do not be silent. Teach your kids to come to you and tell you. Teach your kids to come to their pastor’s and tell us. Teach your kids to share with a safe, authority figure. It is time for this stuff to come out of the shadows. I look forward to a day, that we do not have to talk about abuse and the institutional cover up in order to “protect” clergy. That day will only come when all of us, who are part of the body of Christ, will shine light and be truth tellers.