Copyright 2015 Theresa Harvard Johnson
How would you respond if a child was sexually abused in your church? Is your congregation prepared to protect children and respond legally? In a video produced by Church Mutual, the company states that the places society often considers the safest are often the most vulnerable. Worship centers, like other community serving agencies, are perfect hiding places for predators seeking to gain the trust of children and then abuse them.
Presently, the Catholic Church remains at the top of the list for church scandals surrounding child sexual abuse, having reached settlements and legal expenses exceeding $2.6 billion since 2004. Other high profile sexual abuse allegations have struck the evangelical and protestant community as well. Unfortunately, due to wide denominational divisions and reporting practices, and a lack of organized or centralized reporting there is no way to obtain data or statistics on what's really happening.
The critical message is this: No congregation or ministry is immune to the issue of child sexual abuse. Every congregation should be prepared to meet the needs of children and families in the midst of disclosure and to properly respond legally amid allegations.
In his book, Caring for Sexually Abused Children, Dr. R. Timothy Kearney has provided a practical guide for families and the church that answer the questions presented in a way that promotes healing for children and families; and facilitates preparedness for laymen and the congregation.
Kearney, a clinical psychologist and passionate believer, defines child sexual abuse, and details the symptoms and signs how to recognize them. He addresses how to respond when a child disclosures sexual abuse; and what can be expected. He also talks about the legal implications surrounding the child, the accused, the parents and the congregation. Each chapter of the book is overloaded with practical, non-threatening wisdom, common sense and resources that enable caregivers to make the best possible decisions on behalf of the child to navigate the crisis.
The child is put first -- not the abuser, not the family or the church.
Perhaps the highlight, at least for me, is the sensitivity that is between the pages for the child and his or her family. Throughout the book, Kearney shares scenarios that he has encountered in ministry and used them as a point of reference in framing varying chapters of the book. In one scenario, he addressed how to “respond properly” to the victim of child sexual abuse and their families – even stating how that initial conversation could shape the outcome of the situation for better or worse. This kind of practical and spiritual wisdom is priceless.
While this is not a legal book offering legal insight, he provides all the tools needed for a parent, caregiver, laymen or congregation to obtain the resources needed. Further, he dedicates an entire chapter on building a child sexual abuse “aware” church. His advice does not center solely on awareness and education; but also implementation and integration. He also takes the necessary time to answer those spiritual questions like, “Why did God allow this to happen?”
Hands down, this is perhaps one of the most practical books I have read on this subject – among the very few that you will find on ebook or bookstore shelves. While Kearney is indeed compassionate in his writing, he makes sure that readers understand just how important it is to protect our children and just how vulnerable their congregation could be. I highly recommend this book as a starting place for families and ministries seeking to understand how to care for sexually abused children and their families.
About the Author
R. Timothy Kearney completed his Ph.D. in clinical psychology and M.A. in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the director of mental health at a community health center. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and two daughters.
Paperback: 139 pages
Publisher: IVP Books (April 17, 2001)
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
 Sarah Childress, “What’s the State of the Church’s Child Sexual Abuse Crisis?”, February 25, 2014, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/religion/secrets-of-the-vatican/whats-the-state-of-the-churchs-child-abuse-crisis/
 For an overall perspective on the nature of the crisis in protestant, evangelical and Catholic churches, listen to this NPR radio interview, “Protestant Churches Grapple with Growing Sexual Abuse Crisis,” http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=315129859&m=315129860. Note, however, that this interview is for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent the views of the author of this article on this subject.
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