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Abuse Under Wraps

When leaders at Vienna (Virginia) Presbyterian Church wanted to start a ministry for victims of sex abuse and apologize for incidents at the church more than five years earlier, their insurance company said forget it.

They didn't.

In fact, the church went public, against the insurer's—and its lawyers'—advice. First the church's board wrote a letter to the membership apologizing for their failures in dealing with the accusations when they first arose. Then in a sermon in March, Pastor Peter James told the congregation, including several young women who alleged abuse by a church staff member, "We won't hide behind lawyers … Jesus said the truth will set us free."

The lawyers warned the church to make no statements admitting any guilt. But the pastor spoke directly to the young women. "Let me speak for a moment to our survivors," he said. "We, as church leaders, were part of the harm in failing to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed. Some of you felt uncared for, ...

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