Bishops speak out on clergy sexual abuse
May 3, 2002 News media contact: M. Garlinda Burton· (615)742-5102· Nashville, Tenn. {201}

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (UMNS) — Bishops of the United Methodist Church declared May 3 that clerics who "abuse children or who are sexual predators" will not be "shielded or protected" by church authorities.

With high-profile cases among Catholic clergy raising awareness worldwide, the 150-member Council of Bishops vowed at its semi-annual meeting to "prevent and eradicate sexual abuse and misconduct" from all levels of church life.

In fact, the United Methodist Church has worked for more than 20 years to strengthen the laws in its Book of Discipline regarding ethical and moral conduct of clergy, said Bishop Sharon Rader, council secretary and leader of the church's Wisconsin Area.

"We had this issue on our agenda before all the media attention to the Catholic clergy story," Rader explained. Bishops are charged with reviewing denominational processes concerning clergy conduct, she added.

In 1992, United Methodism's international legislative assembly asked all of the church's regional units, called annual conferences, to develop by the year 2000 policies and procedures for addressing sexual misconduct by clergy and lay employees. Those policies range from provisions for church trials to steps for stripping errant clergy of their ministerial orders.

At their Bloomington meeting, the bishops spent several hours in closed sessions, reviewing church policies and procedures for dealing with clergy and lay employee misconduct. Church legal advisers also were consulted.

The United Methodist Church has 9.7 million members worldwide. United Methodists represent the third largest Christian body in the United States with 8.4 million members, behind the Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists. The United Methodist Church has about 36,000 local congregations and 40,000 clergy in the United States.

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The complete text of the bishops' statement follows.

Sexual Abuse in the Church

There is little doubt that sexual abuse by clergy or representative lay ministers in church and society is troubling for our communities and congregations worldwide. Such violations of sacred trust, particularly child or sexual abuse, are devastating to those victimized and all persons affected. Further, these acts damage the integrity of the church's witness.

As members of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, we affirm our resolve to prevent and eradicate sexual abuse and misconduct in the church. We reaffirm our commitment to compassion, justice and healing for those harmed.

We are committed to addressing sexual misconduct promptly and forthrightly for the healing of all concerned, especially victims and congregations. Clergy and other persons within our communion who abuse children or who are sexual predators will not be knowingly shielded or protected. They shall be held accountable as The Book of
Discipline demands and Church order expects.

Given these historic affirmations, we joined in the following actions in our semi-annual meeting:

· Prayed for victims, offenders, families and the world church including ourselves.
· Reviewed the church's response to this issue over the last twenty years.
· Re-affirmed our policies and protocol for responding to allegations of misconduct.
· Identified existing resources available for the church.
· Committed ourselves anew to the highest ethical standards of our Office and living lives that reflect the gospel.

The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church
May 3, 2002
Minneapolis, Minn.

"I can't stand pain. It hurts me."
--Daffy Duck