Sex offender accountability is part of upholding dignity

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Safe Environment

A minister once told me that the greatest sin is sin against charity. I often reflect on this statement as I look at the pain and suffering in our world. Pope Francis has called us all to live lives marked by charity. Most recently he has directed this to Vatican personnel, the international community and of course all Catholics.

So what is charity?

The catechism defines charity as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.”

Therefore, to sin against charity is to sin against the Love of God towards ourselves and others.

On Oct. 23, 2013, Pope Francis spoke to an audience about charity: “This is the central point of the church: to bring Jesus,” the pope said. “A church that doesn’t bring Jesus is a dead church. It must bring Jesus and it must bring the charity, the love of Jesus and strength of Jesus.”

The goal in implementing the policies of safe environment is to promote the charity, love and strength of Jesus to and from everyone. I am specifically referring to one very sensitive issue. Parishioners and ministers alike ask me about the church’s policies when a parishioner or church minister or volunteer has been convicted of a serious crime, such as a sexual offense against a child or vulnerable person or child pornography. These offenses are clearly against charity and the dignity of the human person. They cause very deep, life long wounds.

As a church, I hope we strive to bring the charity, love and strength of Jesus to each other and to recognize it in ourselves. When we are true and honest with ourselves, we may acknowledge where we have failed against charity and then seek forgiveness and accept the consequences. Accountability is difficult but it is also freeing and humbling. Some failures against charity can be mended by words or actions. Some cause much deeper scars, wounds and create ongoing distrust.

I am often questioned about the effectiveness or the charitable nature of the policies related to convicted sexual offenders. Statistically, there is a high repeat offense rate for perpetrators of sexual crimes against children. Therefore the Archdiocese of Anchorage’s Code of Conduct restricts offenders, with these types of crimes, in ministry and requires a safety plan to be established with their pastor before attending liturgies or parish events. The purpose is to protect our children and vulnerable people from the risk of being victimized and it puts safeguards in place from previous offenders being further questioned.

“If we are a church of forgiveness and mercy,” some would ask, “then why do we judge and restrict some criminal offenses and not others?”  Statistics do not speak to every individual, yet we would be blind and irresponsible to not acknowledge the risk. Even though our policies focus on accountability of offenders, we continue to minister to and seek healing for all who have been wounded at some point in their lives.

The Archdiocese of Anchorage, like the most dioceses across the country, has strict policies when a parishioner and/or parish minister has been convicted of a sexual offense, especially when it is against a child or vulnerable person. We are a church that believes in forgiveness and redemption, and we are a church who has “promised to protect and pledged to heal.”

I talk about this part of our policy to inform our church community and ask for the cooperation of everyone to ensure the dignity of every human person and the protection of the most vulnerable.  If anyone has questions, they should contact the Archdiocesan Office of Safe Environment or their pastor.

The writer is director of the Office of Safe Environment for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. To contact her, call 297-7736.


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