An extraordinary church sexual abuse trial in Maryland just came to a conclusion today. Former Covenant Life, Gaithersburg, Maryland church leader Nathaniel Morales was found guilty on all five counts related to sexual molestations of minors. A corresponding civil lawsuit that addresses what some call "the largest evangelical church child sexual abuse cover-up" in history is stalled in the courts over a fight regarding the statute of limitations. However, the criminal trial this week brought attention to the horrific abuse perpetrated by the molester. One of the men instrumental in bringing this church child abuse case to light, Brent Detwiler, wrote an extraordinary blog a few weeks ago where he responded to the withering criticism he received on Facebook for forcing leaders in the Sovereign Grace network of churches to acknowledge and account for the mishandling and subsequent cover-up of child sexual molestation. The victims, as adults, decided it was time to hold the molester accountable. At first, church leaders "denied" a cover-up. But when the civil suit was filed, the lid was blown off. Caution: the allegations in the civil suit are graphic.
One has to wonder why church leaders who were told about child sexual molestations occurring within their church did not go to civil authorities (the police, child protective services, etc...) when they first heard the allegations. Russell Moore, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, recently said this about the responsibility of church leaders when given information of child molestation:
“If someone comes and says ‘I have been abused sexually’ or ‘I know someone who’s been abused sexually,’ you have to first of all recognize that there are two authorities at work here, and both of them need to be involved. Caesar has a responsibility to deal with this at the civil level. The church has a responsibility to deal with this at the ecclesial level. You immediately call the police. Even if you don’t know whether this is true or not, you don’t know whether or not this has actually happened, you call the police and you say, ‘Caesar has a responsibility, the government has a responsibility, to investigate this."Amen, Dr. Moore, Amen. Unfortunately, some evangelical churches refuse to report child sexual molestation to the proper civil authorities and practice what is called "relational restoration." This is an attempt by church 'authorities' to get the victim of abuse in a room with his or her abuser and bring 'restoration' to the relationship through leading the molester to seek repentance for his or her molestations, and to lead the victim to forgiveness of the molester for his or her acts of abuse. It is my opinion that the practice of relational restoration is often the reason churches refuse to report child sexual molestation to police. Church authorities feel such matters should 'stay within the church.' It seems I'm not alone. At last year's national convention of the Presbyterian Church of America, a motion was brought before the assembly requesting that Presbyterian churches cooperate with government officials in "exposing and bringing to justice all probable perpetrators..." and to refrain from private "church discipline" or "relational restoration" apart from the fulfillment of mandated reporting duties. The pertinent paragraph within the official motion reads as follows:
RESOLVED that we pledge our commitment to work and fully cooperate with duly appointed God-ordained government officials in exposing and bringing to justice all probable perpetrators, who morally and criminally harm the children placed in our trust, and not in any perceivable way display reluctance in fully cooperating with lawful authorities by attempting to handle the issue internally by subjecting either the supposed victim or alleged criminal perpetrator to private “church discipline” or "relational restoration” apart from the fulfillment of our mandated reporting duties to God-ordained government authorities....Those church leaders who practice 'relational restoration' or 'church discipline' without exposing and identifying the perpetrator of child sexual abuse do more damage than they realize. The fact that church officials did nothing to expose Nate Morales at the time they discovered his acts of molestation has led to years of pain for both the victims and those who tried to warn the church of their civic responsibility.
It's hard to argue against a statute of limitations in a civil case when a criminal court convicts a man of child sexual abuse decades after the abuse occurred. Regardless of repentance, forgiveness, and any 'relational restoration,' forced or unforced, acts of child sexual molestation require full exposure.