1. Preface

The following document discusses the issue of sexual abuse from a church perspective and suggests various measures which can be undertaken within churches to prevent incidences of sexual abuse, and to respond appropriately where an allegation is made or incident reported.

It should be clarified at the outset that although much of this document focuses on the abuse of children, nonetheless, they are not the only victims. This document should be read with the understanding that this type of abuse is a concern for all peoples, regardless of age, sex and national origin, etc. Many of the procedures outlined in the document, although specific to address child sexual abuse, can also be amended and applied to cases of sexual abuse involving adults.

Churches need to be places where positive Christian values and commitment to the safety and well-being of its parishioners are evident. This should arise from the understanding that all people, being made in God's image, are entitled to a fundamental respect for their person.

Jesus' teachings about children are sobering:
"If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone tied around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6)

These words reflect a recognition of a child's particular vulnerability to harm and a particular obligation of God's people to be mindful of their interests and, most certainly, to protect them from harm in all situations and environments.

Sadly, churches are not always what they should be. That is recognised by Jesus in the words following those quoted above:
"Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come." (Matthew 18:7)

Some Christians give in to the temptation to sexually violate or offend others. In other cases, people outside the church may seek association with church ministries in order to gain access to children and other vulnerable people. While hoping that such people will be open to the gospel dynamic of repentance, confession, forgiveness and personal renewal, the church must be realistic about what can, does and has happened.

No congregation or organisation can afford to say "it cannot happen here", for it can. Sadly, instances of this type of abuse have been reported within Presbyterian congregations and other denominations.

We should also be mindful of the possibility of false allegations of abuse. Whether those allegations are made with malicious intent, or are sincere but misdirected, they can do immense harm to the name of Christ, the church and the leaders involved. Wise protection codes may help protect us from such allegations.

We have the responsibility for the safety and well-being of those placed under our care. When a person reports abuse to a church leader or is abused in a church environment, it is vital that the church has clear and comprehensive policies and strategies to deal with the situation. Therefore, we owe it to both the local and the wider church to address the following:
a) protect users of church property from abuse by screening those working within ministries of the church through adoption of a code of protective behaviours;
(see section 2, Statement of Principles, and section 7, Recommended Policy Practices)
b) provide mechanisms whereby disclosures of alleged abuse, whether the alleged offender is inside or outside the church, can be properly investigated and responded to; and
c) protect the church, and its members, from false allegations of abuse.

It is hoped that this document will assist local churches and other bodies to develop appropriate policies and strategies. The recommended steps for action are outlined at appendices 1 to 6 at the end of the document.

Please note that throughout this document the term "minister" is used to refer to the Minister of the church, the Home Missioner or the Pastoral Care Worker.

2. Statement of Principles

(See Appendix 4)
As the Presbyterian Church of Australia in New South Wales:

  1. We commit ourselves to respect other people's minds, emotions and bodies.
  2. We acknowledge and accept the extraordinary amount of trust granted to us by those who are taking part in church activities amd their families, and by the wider community. We therefore commit ourselves to ensuring that all our actions are morally upright.
  3. We require those who work on behalf of our church to indicate their agreement with the policies outlined within the document.
  4. We believe that churches ought to be places of safety and refuge for children and others, that they be, and feel, safe from any threat when on church property or in the care of Christian people, and that the church should be a place where people can disclose abuse and have it dealt with effectively.

Therefore we have a responsibility to:


3. Statement of Position

The Presbyterian Church of Australia in New South Wales does not condon nor tolerate any acts of abuse towards children or adults and will actively seek to prevent its occurrence, and where such an incident is found to have occurred, may report such an incidence to the appropriate authority which may include the Police, and take other disciplinary steps as is deemed necessary.

Irrespective of any other action that may be taken, the Church reserves the right to exercise its powers of discipline over adherents, members and office-bearers according to its Code of Discipline wherever this action is deemed necessary.



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