Q: Does the fact that the OCA has adopted new PSPs dealing with sexual misconduct in the Church mean that sexual misconduct is happening more frequently in our parishes today?
A: No. But our society has become more vigilant in trying to protect children and vulnerable people from sexual abuse through prevention of misconduct in societal institutions. Additionally, society has become more aggressive in holding guilty individuals accountable for their behavior. This also means courts and juries hold institutions, such as the church, more accountable for their efforts to protect children and vulnerable populations and also more accountable for investigating allegations of sexual misconduct and holding the guilty accountable. The OCA adopted new PSPs to bring its policies up to the standards of the day and to be more proactive in protecting its members and more diligent in investigating allegations which come to its attention. There is greater societal expectation today that organizations such as churches will do even more to protect their vulnerable members from abuse of any kind.
Q: The PSPs call for investigating all allegations which come to the attention of church leaders. Is not this a waste of time since most allegations turn out to be false?
A: Investigating all allegations is the most fair way to determine which allegations are in fact serious and require further action by the church or by civil authorities. “Investigations” can be as simple as making inquiries to establish basic facts. Some allegations necessitate more in depth investigations due to the nature of the allegation or what was uncovered in the initial inquiry.
A report of an allegation does not prove the accused is guilty of anything. But investigating allegations does help protect all individuals and in the end does uphold the integrity of church leaders and the church itself.
It should be noted that when it comes to allegations made by children, professional studies show that ‘false’ allegations may occur as rarely as 1% of the cases. See: False Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Children are Rare and How Often Do Children’s Reports of Abuse Turn Out to be False?
Other studies show that the number of unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse varies by age group, but between 2-10% of the time allegations remain unsubstantiated (which doesn’t mean the misconduct didn’t occur, it just couldn’t be proven). Children rarely lie about such things. If anything research has shown that children under report abuse rather than exaggerate claims. When video evidence exists of what abuse actually occurred, the child victims often report less abuse than is clearly documented. More troubling is that studies show some of the false allegations occurred at the prompting of the children’s parents!
The best way to help prevent false allegations of child sexual abuse is to teach and encourage children to be honest, which requires adults/ parents themselves to be honest. Honesty, truthfulness and trustworthiness are virtues the church and its members are supposed to be living by and instilling in their children.
Q: If I hear of or suspect child sexual abuse, why should I report it to anyone when I in fact don’t know if it is truly happening?
A: Keep in mind that reporting suspected abuse to authorities is not making an allegation. Many states have laws that require certain citizens to report suspected child sexual abuse.
The report is made so that those trained to do so can investigate the report and work for the general welfare of the children involved. It is the professional investigators who will make the determination as to whether the allegations are true.
Unfortunately abusers are often known by the child and are people they trust. But that is also what makes it hard for others to know whether or not abuse is occurring because the alleged abuser has some rightful relationship with the abused. It is very painful and ugly for a young dad to have to report his own father or brother to the authorities for sexual abuse or a mother to have to report the godfather she chose for her child, but these are real occurrences in society.
We report suspected abuse in order to let those trained in investigation determine whether abuse has occurred. It is not just the right thing to do, often it is required by law to report sexual abuse of children.
It is for the sake of the children that we report suspected child abuse to the authorities. Investigations have shown abuse is rarely a single event but rather is more often a part of a pattern of behavior with multiple occurrences which often become worse over time. Reporting an event might help stop many other such events from occurring.
Q: Will the new PSPs prevent sexual misconduct from occurring in the church?
A: Unfortunately not. But they can reduce the risk of it occurring in several important ways: 1) By making all parish members more aware of the problem of sexual misconduct – when and how it occurs – and causing all of us to be more vigilant in paying attention to safety issues in our parish communities. 2) By investigating allegations, those tempted to engage in the behavior become more aware they may also be caught and might be discouraged from attempting some misconduct. 3) By investigating allegations some abusers will be discovered and removed from opportunities to continue abuse or engage in new or further abuse.
Q: Are the PSPs concerned only with child sexual abuse?
A: No, the PSPs address any type of sexual abuse that might occur in the church. Sexual misconduct might occur between adults and children, but not all sexual misconduct is illegal – sometimes it might occur between consenting adults. All of us need to make ourselves aware of kinds of sexual abuse that would be considered illegal: any sexual behavior between adults and children will have some legal implications, but also in many states counselors including pastoral counselors/pastors/priests are legally forbidden from having any kind of sexual relationship with the people they counsel or to whom they minister. Generally when a relationship is viewed as involving people of unequal power, laws prohibit sexual relationships. The church is interested in maintaining high levels of sexual morality in its communities and from its leaders. The new PSPs are aimed at enforcing those levels of moral and ethical behavior among church members and leaders. Some issues which society might not view as a problem (infidelity, adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, pornography) are moral issues within the church. The Church does abide by the laws of the land in which it resides but also has its own rules of conduct for moral behavior as well as its own policies of discipline for its clergy and members. The PSPs are there to remind us of the Church’s own moral standards for sexual behavior for its membership and leadership. The PSPs acknowledge the reality of temptation and sin as well as the fallen nature of humans.
Q: Aren’t the new PSPs simply reflective of the bishops caving in to social demands and allowing the state to invade the Church?
A: The bishops themselves agreed that the OCA’s old PSPs were in need of updating and improvement. The Holy Synod of Bishops themselves promulgated the new PSPs as an important part of their own ministry, concern for the welfare of all members and love for the church. The bishops were involved in this process from the beginning and do understand their importance for OCA’s functioning in North America. Cases of sexual abuse in the church cause tremendous damage to the integrity and work of the Church, and cost churches billions of dollars in settlements. It is in the interest of the church to invest upfront and proactively in dealing with sexual misconduct, for it cost the church far more in dollars and public trust when the Church fails to deal with these issues transparently and properly.
Q: Are not the new PSPs overly disruptive to the life of parishes and priests in demanding that all allegations be investigated?
A: The disruption in parish life for substantiated sexual misconduct is far more disruptive to the life of church and clergy than doing investigations of allegations. It may be that over time and with experience the Church will find ways to streamline the process and more effectively deal with allegations. The Church will always be trying to improve itself on this account. Cases of sexual misconduct between adults and children as well as between adults have occurred in our parishes. The PSPs are justified based on that reality alone. We cannot know if misconduct occurred unless we are willing to do fair and thorough investigations. Yes, sometimes these are disruptive to people’s lives, but then sexual abuse sometimes damages young people’s lives forever. Human sin does disrupt our communities and the Church as a whole. We need effective policies and procedures to deal with such disruptions whenever they occur and even when they appear to have occurred. Proper PSPs serve the interests of the Church as a whole in our society, as well as serving to help and protect all church members and leaders.
Q: Is dealing with Internet Pornography part of the work of ORSMA?
A: Yes, as prevention and education about sexual misconduct. Internet pornography, as a multi-billion dollar industry, is the fastest growing addiction today. In large part, our youth are getting their sexual education from internet pornography. Adults of all ages, mostly male but females also, face serious challenges on the computer and smart phones. ORSMA can provide resources for dealing with internet pornography with children and adults. Please contact ORSMA for assistance with these issues.