a path and fence with the words

Sacred trust

This month’s Bishop’s Reflection is a revision of a Facebook post Bishop Tim Smith shared last month (August 2018) in response to the findings released about the egregious misconducts against children by Roman Catholic priests.

In 2018 it should go without saying, but in truth it’s the “without saying” that in part makes possible the horrific revelations of sexual abuse and systemic institutional and personal cover-ups among priests in Pennsylvania that we learned about this week (Aug. 14, 2018).

For the record, we do not keep on our clergy roster of the NC Synod anyone who is known to have been involved in a blatant sexual misconduct, whether with children or an adult and regardless of claimed “consensuality.”

As with doctor/patient, teacher/student, or boss/employee, the priestly office requires an even greater and sacred trust as we offer a Gospel accompaniment and proclamation in the deepest and most vulnerable places. If we receive a report as pastors or bishops about the sexual abuse of a child, on both moral and legal grounds we will report it to legal authorities and cooperate with them in investigating and prosecuting the case.

The most common and frustrated question we receive from perpetrators, their families, and surprisingly large numbers of parishioners in the wake of sexual misconduct by a pastor is, “Where’s the forgiveness? Even if he did do it, don’t we believe in grace, in transformation, and in new beginnings?” Absolutely, we do. But let me put it this way. Suppose I engage a babysitter for our dear grandsons. Then I find out that the babysitter has been abusing them. Can I, should I, as a baptized child of God work toward forgiveness? And do I believe in—will I even do my best to help in—the transformation of life for that babysitter perpetrator? As hard as it would be, our Christian faith would say “yes.”

But…and here’s the kicker…does forgiving and believing in grace and transformation of life mean I’ll continue to hire that person to babysit for our vulnerable grandchildren? Or write them a good recommendation to come babysit for your children? No way! Because of our human sinful state, forgiveness and consequences cannot be mutually exclusive. Yes, God showed mercy on and forgave Adam and Eve, but not in the garden anymore. There were, and will always be, consequences of our actions. For our rostered ministers, that means we can love you, we can forgive you, we will help you, but you will not serve on the roster of this church among vulnerable people. When it happens, we on the synod staff and certainly the congregation are devastated. We had no way to have known. But if it’s happened before and we put someone in a new parish and it happens again, we knew. That’s not only on that rostered minister. That’s on me. And it’s not going to happen in the NC Synod.

If you are a victim of clergy sexual misconduct by one of our current or former NC Synod rostered ministers (pastors or deacons), we want you to know that I and my (female) associate for Boundary Issues will listen to you, we will believe you, we will maintain the confidentiality of your identity, we will work for your healing, and we will swiftly and firmly confront the perpetrator. You may learn more about our Sexual Misconduct Policy here. All rostered ministers are required to take a Basic Boundary Workshop and to participate in additional training every three years. Boundary trainings were most-recently held in fall of 2016 and January, 2017. The next scheduled boundary training is a Basic Boundary Workshop following this year’s Fall Convocation for rostered ministers and other leaders of the church, the afternoon of October 10 at Lutheridge. Registration will open soon; watch the synod’s Boundaries webapage.

Walking with you,

Tim signature

Bishop Tim Smith