Approved October 2004
The DignityUSA Board of Directors acknowledges that child abusers or child molesters serving as Dignity chapter Presiders or prayer leaders is a serious and multi-faceted issue and further acknowledges that this position was arrived at after much discussion, thought and prayer. The role of the DignityUSA Board of Directors is to care for and protect the entire organization. It is in this light that we make the following statement:
The DignityUSA House of Delegates, during the 1995 Convention, passed the resolution that stated, “DignityUSA recognizes that individual chapters must claim a significant measure of autonomy with respect to the manner in which they organize and conduct the liturgical life of their communities,…”. It has been the position of DignityUSA that the choice of Presider at a chapter’s liturgy be a chapter’s decision and DignityUSA has not wished to dictate who should serve a local Dignity chapter in this way.
Keeping this in mind, however, it is the position of the DignityUSA Board of Directors that a child molester1 should not serve as a Presider at Dignity liturgies.
DignityUSA’s accepts that the definition of a child abuser or child molester is a person against whom a credible accusation of child molestation has been made - i.e., is a person who meets at least one of the following criteria:
1) has been found guilty by a criminal court;
2) a Diocesan Review Board has found sufficient evidence that the allegation is credible; or
3) the accused has reached a settlement with his/her accuser, thus stopping any further litigation.
The position of the DignityUSA Board of Directors does not include any person who has been simply accused of child molestation. Please refer to Considerations regarding a Dignity chapter responding to an accused child molester as chapter member and liturgical Presider regarding this topic.
We must protect our members, whether they are children or adults. The presence of a child molester in a position of spiritual, moral and liturgical leadership and power is potentially harmful or distressing to a range of people – from children who are present to adult survivors of sexual abuse and others affected by this issue.
Any chapter that knowingly allows a child abuser or child molester to serve as Presider will risk losing its charter from DignityUSA.
When the chapter leadership learns that a member is a child molester, the leadership must make it clear to this member that he/she is welcome in the faith community but may not serve as a Presider. The scandal and taint of conviction in these cases may not preclude someone from being a member but must preclude him/her from being a Presider.
We have always striven to be an inclusive community and we will continue to do so; we do not turn people away at the door. When anyone comes to our community looking for support, fellowship or just a place to pray, we welcome him or her as a child of our loving God in the same spirit of love that Jesus practiced. With this in mind though, chapters who are aware of the presence of a child molester must make every effort to ensure that all participants at chapter events are safe at all times. If necessary, chapters may need to separate the child molester from chapter events if his/her presence or conduct is disruptive. It is a chapter’s obligation to ensure that it is fulfilling its legal and Christian responsibilities to all participants at Dignity events.
The chapter leadership should assume that any person who is a child molester, serving as Presider, will detrimentally affect the local community and the larger Dignity community and that the information will eventually become public knowledge. Leadership must be prepared for the great impact and greater likelihood of media attention if such a person serves in the role of being a Presider.
Concern and sensitivity for other members is also pertinent and not secondary. Chapter leadership cannot ignore the potential conflict between chapter members and other DignityUSA members. Those who have suffered abuse themselves or have a family member or friend who was abused may find the presence of a convicted abuser in a leadership role very distressing. Love and compassion must be shown to these individuals as it is shown to the abuser.
Throughout the history of Dignity, we have stated our mission, vision and purpose as creating a place where we are respected, affirmed and treated with justice. We seek a place where we can experience the dignity of integrating our spirituality and sexuality as beloved persons of God. Creating such a safe place for all relies on shared values and sometimes difficult choices. We must support the community and serve the needs of the community while welcoming individuals who need the community.
Any chapter dealing with this issue is advised to contact the DignityUSA national office as soon as they are aware of this situation and keep that office informed and up to date with decisions and events surrounding the situation.
Every decision the chapter leadership makes, should be done with prayer and in the spirit of Christ.
Approved at the DignityUSA Board of Director’s meeting October 2, 2004 in Washington, DC.
1 “Sexual abuse of a minor includes sexual molestation or sexual exploitation of a minor and other behavior by which an adult uses a minor as an object of sexual gratification.” From the Preamble to the Essential Norms for the dioceses of located in the United States.
The terms ‘sexual abuse’ and ‘child molestation’ are used interchangeably in this document. The term ‘minor’ includes any person who has not reached the age of consent as determined by their local laws.