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Notes for Leaders by Elizabeth Penlington

The Church aspires to be open to all. This lays it open to exploitation by those who would use it to gain access to children for the purposes of sexual abuse. At the same time it has a ministry to such offenders, and to those considered to be at risk of offending.

This calls for understanding and sensitivity in Church leaders.

  1. A declaration of repentance, however sincere, should NEVER be taken as a guarantee against further offending.
  2. There is no cure for sex offending: treatment is available, but at best it equips an offender with techniques for identifying problematic situations, and for avoiding them.
  3. In an institutional setting such as a Church congregation, abuse rarely starts with an act, which constitutes an offence. Offences are preceded by a process of grooming by which abusers commend themselves to the children that they wish to target, and to the adults who would protect them (including Church leaders). Grooming may continue over many months or years.
  4. A useful technique for Church leaders is to negotiate a “Contract” between themselves and the “risky adult”. Such Contracts are not intended to be enforceable at law, but to lay down the mutual expectations of the parties.
  5. Such a Contract should be written to meet the needs of the particular case, but certain provisions are typical, i.e.:
  1. The manner in which information is imparted to the congregation is also important. Leaders need to be aware that it may include victims of the offender who have not yet come forward, or been identified as such. This requires special sensitivity in the public profession of repentance.
  2. Church leaders should never be afraid to seek advice. A situation, which to them may seem novel and frightening, will be familiar and manageable to others. In the Church of England expert advice is available in each Diocese from the Bishop’s Officer for Child Protection.
  3. If the “risky adult” leaves your Church you should do your utmost to notify the Church to which he or she is going, and also inform the Bishop’s Officer for Child Protection.

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