A state Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has adopted a policy for reporting sexual abuse by clergy that a victim advocate hopes will become a model for other Baptist bodies.

The plan, approved last month by the Coordinating Council of the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, allows both individuals and churches to report ministerial sexual abuse and includes a process for “good-faith investigatory action” if the charge is disputed.

Brent McDougal, coordinator of the Alabama CBF, said the policy’s intent is to bring the problem of sexual abuse by Baptist clergy into the light.

“Sexual abuse by clergy has caused devastating harm to so many persons in the past and threatens to hurt countless people in the future,” McDougal said. “The tendency in Baptist life, and in other denominations, has been to ignore such claims, minimize the hurt that has been done or rationalize the behavior of clergy. It’s our responsibility to hear and respond to claims of clergy sexual abuse in a manner consistent with our faith in Christ. Jesus welcomed children and stood up for the weak.”

Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called it an “important step toward protecting kids.”

Brown, a survivor of clergy sex abuse, and SNAP have been calling for the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics, to develop a denomination-wide policy to eradicate sexual predators similar to one adopted by Catholic bishops in response to a pedophile priest scandal five years ago.

Alabama CBF consulted Brown and others in developing the policy. SBC officials, while studying the feasibility of a national database of clergy sex offenders, say Baptists’ system of local-church autonomy limits what denominational bodies can do to police sexual abuse, because local churches and not the convention are responsible for hiring and firing of ministers.

Alabama CBF leaders said the policy is not an attempt to control but rather to “minister” to congregations.

“As a state organization, we’re concerned with compassion for the wounded and safeguarding for the vulnerable,” McDougal said. “We also want to provide a clear, fair process that helps protect ministers from false claims of sexual abuse. This is an issue of justice, both for the accused and the accuser.”

In cases where ministers confess, are convicted of or a church finds documentation of clergy sexual abuse, the Alabama CBF will remove the offending minister’s name from any CBF literature or Web site, deny access to its reference-and-referral service, list the minister’s name on a Web page and keep a record for churches considering future employment.

The policy also permits individuals with credible knowledge to report incidents to clergy-sex abuse. In addition to following laws for reporting sexual abuse, the policy calls for a five-person committee to investigate the charges and inform the accuser of the committee’s judgment.

“This strong policy demonstrates how Baptists can work together to address clergy sex abuse when their leaders truly focus on compassion for the wounded and safeguarding the vulnerable,” Brown said. “We hope other faith groups, including Southern Baptists, will study this policy and adopt similar ones.”

“Sexual abuse is a terrible tragedy and we wish this type of policy was not necessary,” said Alabama CBF co-moderators Janet and David Goodwin, “We hope this can provide support and resolution for victims, the accused and congregations.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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