As more cases of pastoral sexual misconduct surface, churches are beginning to understand that more than the victim and perpetrator face fractured lives. With more than 200 reported cases of pastoral sexual misconduct in the country last year, entire congregations are left sorting through shards of shame, scandal, and anger, hoping to find healing and forgiveness in the rubble underneath.
Members of Christ Community Church in Saint Charles, Illinois, know from experience that healing is a lengthy process (CT, Oct. 6, 1997, p. 90). Two years ago, former youth pastor Bryan Buckley was convicted of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl from the church.
Church elders confronted Buckley, then staff held a meeting for the parents of church youth, explaining what happened and offering counseling and prayer.
To help children and parents work through anger, betrayal, and fear, the church conducted all-day small-group counseling sessions. Senior pastor Jim Nicodeme gave updates to the congregation as the criminal case developed, and he preached about personal responsibility, repentance, and forgiveness.
To give youth greater assurance of safety and control, Christ Community allowed kids to ask the new youth pastor difficult questions about his integrity and commitment to the group.
Christ Community paid for counseling for the two girls who reported Buckley, and the church also supports the treatment Buckley receives while incarcerated.
"Our congregation learned how to pray for our leaders, our members, and their protection like never before," says Kathy Cott, director of caring ministries at Christ Community.
LONG-TERM WOUNDS: But even after two years, Cott says the healing process is not complete.
"[Buckley] is still in prison, and that makes ...1