Sex Abuse Claims Again the Top Reason Churches Go to Court! Has your church protected itself?

Sadly, abuse within the church has reached the headlines: What is known about each of the 71 accused Harrisburg Diocese clergy

Has your church ever trained its staff and volunteers on your church’s policy for reporting child abuse and neglect?

Incredibly, abuse claims are the primary reason churches end up in court.

In 2017, the top five reasons were (1) sexual abuse of a child, (2) property disputes, (3) personal injuries, (4) zoning disputes, and (5) insurance disputes. . . In 2016, the sexual abuse of a child dropped from first place to second place for the first time in 20 years.

Ignorance is often a poor excuse. Look at the Urban Meyer scandal. Do you want your deacons, trustees, committee members deposed? Could they answer what they knew and when did they know it. Churches need to proactively establish the norms. Per this article,

Churches must be aggressive. Any reasonable suspicion of child abuse must be reported immediately. It doesn’t matter if you or your colleagues are defined as a mandatory reporter in your state or not. Report it. Transfer the risk to the state in terms of what can be done about it.

In Alabama, members of the clergy, public and private K-12 employees, school teachers and officials; and day care workers or employees are mandatory reporters pursuant to Alabama law. Mandatory reporting to law enforcement is mandated “when the child is known or suspected to be a victim of child abuse or neglect.” Clergy, however, are not required to report if the abuse is revealed by a person seeking spiritual advice and when that communication was made with the understanding that it shouldn’t be revealed to someone else.

When a child suspected of abuse presents themselves, these individuals are “required to report orally, either by telephone or direct communication immediately, and shall be followed by a written report” to the local chief of police, or the sheriff, or the Department of Human Resources.

When an actual or suspected case of abuse becomes known, the clock starts ticking. In Alabama, it’s “IMMEDIATELY.”

It’s important for ministers and other church leaders to know how seriously states take these deadlines. In 2015, a high school counselor in Arkansas was sentenced to one year of probation and assessed a $2,500 fine for reporting a sexual relationship between the school’s volleyball coach and a player 14 days after first learning about it. That state’s law requires reports to be made “immediately.”

Every church should, with the help of an attorney, develop a policy for reporting abuse. Identify who is a mandated reporter, the behaviors that warrant a report, and the proper reporting procedures. Train ministry staff and volunteers to follow this policy regularly.