to the church voice mail over the weekend prompted me to make a phone call or two of my own. The call was from a man who wanted to visit the congregation but had a problematic past he needed to discuss. So I called him, determined that he is a Level II sex offender, and listened to what he had to say about his crime and his progress in changing his behavior.
I took the name and phone number of his parole officer, told him I would be calling the parole officer to discuss his situation, and also that I would be talking with the leadership of our congregation about him. I warned him that one step we would definitely take, if he were to be able to visit, was that the entire congregation would have to know about him, that we would set up conditions for his time with us and enforce those conditions, that the safety of our children and our adult survivors was paramount. He understood all this, I believe.
So this morning, I called his parole officer and had an informative conversation with her, learning that the conditions of his parole state that he must not go to locations where children and youth tend to congregate. That means he is not allowed to visit a church. Even his calling to inquire was a near-violation, though I'm glad he called, rather than drop in.
So the situation has changed somewhat, but I plan to attend the upcoming July board meeting (even though I'm on vacation in July) because I want them to start a process to put measures in place that will protect the congregation from known and unknown predators. We already do a background check on all those who work with the kids but that's not necessarily enough.
I've had enough experience with sexual predators, both personally and professionally, to know that it's an insidious, identity-damaging crime. I agree with the Supremes that it doesn't warrant the death penalty, but it does so much damage to a person's identity that it should be considered a huge offense against humanity. I believe a victim can be healed, with enough time and treatment; I'm not sure about a predator for whom the behavior has become addictive.
But the question of how to provide a spiritual home for both an offender (of many types, not just sexual) and a potential victim is one that faces many faith traditions. Our desire to be compassionate must be balanced by our ability to be protective of potential victims and of adult survivors of sexual assault.
We've seen this handled very badly over the years. It has happened in every faith tradition and we UUs are no exception. We are slowly developing an understanding of how to protect our congregations and how to make offenders accountable for their actions.
I'm grateful to my colleague the Rev. Debra Haffner at her Sexuality and Religion blog. She has offered me and our colleagues a good deal of assistance in dealing with sexuality issues in our congregations.
I've written a note to my lectionary group colleagues suggesting that we offer, in the fall, a seminar to all the clergy and their layleaders on the island, led by the parole officer I talked with today, and have received very favorable responses. I hope that we will be able to bring this non-doctrinal yet moral issue to the table and provide some real-time answers.
The officer I talked with was frank and very helpful to me; she has worked with churches in the past to help them understand the nature of sexual predation and to help them develop processes to address it. We'll see what happens.