Survivor-sensitive investigations of church abuse

Writing in Christianity Today, Todd Hunter calls for survivor-sensitive investigations of abuse. Hunter is the bishop of CS4O the Diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others, a non-geographic diocese of the Anglican Church in North America. He makes no mention of an investigation by ACNA into charges of abuse, that investigation has been criticized by survivors for not being survivor-centered. It appears he is calling for ACNA to reconsider the path it has chosen.

From Hunter’s essay:

  • Survivors must be involved in every aspect of the church’s response to allegationsfrom reporting, designing the investigative process, investigating, and announcing any sentence, to creating needed reform in the church and securely holding survivors.
  • Survivors must be discovered and have a safe way of coming forward. They must know enough about the investigative approach to feel believed, welcomed, and safe in the investigation. They must be assured of as much confidentiality as possible, that they can even report to the investigator anonymously and be anonymous in the final, public report. It is crucial that survivors not be outed to those who could harm them or even take their life.
  • Churches, various judicatories, and religious institutions must not investigate themselves using employees who work for the institution. Leaders of the church must have the courage to step aside. As Scot McKnight has written: “The church surrenders for the good of the other (the Survivor).” Surrender for the good of others fits securely in any definition of agape. Churches should use independent outside contractors.

  • The process must be open. This means that contracts with investigators and investigative methods must be shared with survivors. This assures them that the scope of the investigation is thorough; it is not limited by budget or an artificial timeline; it is safe; and it will not simply re-traumatize survivors in an effort to protect the Church.
  • The investigative report must be made available to survivors and all others with the need to know. This ensures the report is not stuffed into a drawer by a judicatory leader, thereby silencing the survivor and protecting the perpetrator. Controlling information is a key tactic of church cover-up.
  • Trauma-informed pastoral care must be offered to survivors and paid for by the church/judicatory/denomination. This should be automatic. But as I mentioned earlier, it is not commonly done because attorneys and PR departments frown upon it. It may imply responsibility or guilt or cause insurance issues. Fair enough. But we must encourage churches to think this through based not on fear and protectionism but on doing whatever we can to care for the traumatized. Think it through using the vision of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. With that in view, no argument for withholding healing from survivors makes any moral or spiritual sense. Get “yes” oriented. Exercise your empathy muscle. Get creative. Find a way.

Read it all.

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