Today, a glance at a newspaper or a quick tune-in to TV news will affirm the reality of abuse, sexual and otherwise, within religious and educational institutions. Like many other large organizations where imbalances of power can lead to exploitation, the Anglican Church of Canada is committed to ensuring a healthy environment for vulnerable people who seek sanctuary within its walls.
The issue of abuse has, in fact, been high on the agenda of the worldwide Anglican Church for almost five years-since Lambeth 2008 established the Safe Church Consultation as a formal entity. The consultation’s first conference, held in 2008 in Woking, U.K., addressed the reality of sexual abuse by clergy and other church workers.
That important discussion continued in June 2011 at an international meeting in Victoria, B.C. that explored the legacy of maltreatment in the church and ways to prevent it and foster healing.
Speakers included the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Rev. Dr. Isaac Kawuki Mukasa, co-ordinator for dialogue in the faith, worship and ministry department. Topics ranged from pastoral ethics and professional supervision to domestic violence and human trafficking.
A third conference is planned for 2014 in Nairobi by the Anglican Communion’s newest network, the Safe Church Network, in conjunction with the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa. At last November’s Anglican Consultative Council in Auckland, N.Z., a resolution was passed to adopt a charter to protect people in churches across the Communion. Mukasa is now working with Safe Church Canada to establish a national standard for the Anglican Church of Canada.
For some, those new standards are long overdue. In Victoria, Marion Little, canon pastor for the diocese of British Columbia’s sexual misconduct and screening in faith policies, says tackling abuse of power by both lay and ordained church leaders is crucial to church health. “If the church hopes to attract and retain discerning young adults and young families, we need to assertively engage in abuse prevention, response and healing,” says Little. “We must commit to creating reliably safe environments.”
Little notes that in 2011 her diocese signed a landmark agreement with the Canadian Red Cross to deliver its abuse-prevention and safe-environment workshops through diocesan facilitators.
“Our credibility as Christians hangs on how well we address this one age-old human issue,” says Little. “If we cannot provide true sanctuary to our most vulnerable, we might as well lock our doors and go home.”
As a veteran of almost 30 years in parish ministry, the Rev. Canon Dr. Judy Rois is well acquainted with the issue of clergy safety. And although individual churches may post codes of behaviour, she thinks it’s time for general guidelines on acceptable behaviour in churches.
“Like many volunteer organizations, a church is a welcoming place,” says Rois, who is now executive director of the Anglican Foundation of Canada. “Anybody can walk in, and nobody is screened or interviewed to be a parishioner. So a church attracts a wide diversity of people.”
For years, Rois has been lobbying seminaries to train clergy in ways that will help them understand and deal with people from all walks of life. “They need to be able to distinguish between someone with a legitimate concern and someone who has misdirected anger or even a mental illness,” she says.
“It’s all about taking a respectful and courteous stance toward another human being in terms of speech, conduct and behaviour,” says Rois.