Pedophiles in the Church

Schools and churches were cited by Richard Hammar (THE guru of church legal and tax stuff) as the last places that pedophiles could hope to enter without being screened. Well, the school door is now closed – virtually every school screens anyone who gets near kids. That leaves churches – how open is your door? There are lots of ways to screen for pedophiles – see for a site by the Federal Department of Justice that lists every convicted pedophile in the US.

But what about pedophiles that have done their time and now want to attend church – your church! What will you do? How do you handle that request? I suspect that every sizable church in America has a convicted pedophile visit at least once a year – sometimes the church knows the pedophile is coming and can be prepared but often the visit is unannounced.

Pretend you are someone intent on harming a child: this Sunday wander the halls of your children’s areas and see who stops you to ask why you’re there and if you should be there. If you’re on staff, you may not be challenged. So do something better, ask a friend is who a stranger to your church to wander the halls where children and minors are present. Ask him (it must be a male) to track how long it is before he is stopped. Hopefully it will be less than one minute till someone at the church asks him what he needs and escorts him out of the children’s area. That drill might be eye-opening to you. Then share the info with your children’s leaders – either praise them for their timely actions in stopping a stranger, or use this as a teaching

But what about pedophiles who “do the right thing” by contacting the church and explain their situation and ask about coming. Consider the upside versus the downside – the upside is that one person, a convicted pedophile gets to go to church and the downside is that he might do something on your property that endangers your little ones. So, what should you do? Here are some simple steps to take:

  1. Have at least two people from the church (pastor and another person) meet with the pedophile. Ask about his faith tradition, his faith journey, and his reasons for wanting to worship at your church and not a church closer to his home. (I use the male pronoun because most, but not all, pedophiles are men.)
  2. Have the same two people who visited with the pedophile to meet with the parole officer (PO) to hear what the PO says about the situation. Listen for variances between what the PO says and what you heard from the pedophile. Tell the PO what the pedophile told you – it may not be the “whole” trust but just part of the truth.
    1. The PO will give a clear opinion about whether the pedophile is ready to come to a worship venue where children will be present. Follow his advice – he’s much better at evaluating these situations than anyone in a church; that’s his job.
    2. Some POs have a covenant which is a contract between the pedophile and the church. Read it carefully and decide if the church can fulfill its side of the contract. Most contracts have similar language and are designed to protect the church, not the pedophile.
  3. If you decided to let the pedophile come to church then abide by the following guidelines. Tell the PO what you’re doing and get his approval or ask for changes. Don’t vary from the final agreement; any variance can open the church to legal proceedings.
    1. The church must appoint a handful of men who agree to be the “shepherds” of the pedophile while he is present on church property. These should be mature men who do not have young children in their immediate family (so that a child isn’t sitting with her father and the pedophile).
    2. The pedophile must arrive at the church and stay in his car in the parking lot until his shepherd comes to the car. The pedophile and the shepherd will walk together to worship and sit together. If an approved shepherd doesn’t come, then the pedophile must leave the church and return another week. The pedophile can have the cell phone numbers of church shepherds.
    3. If the pedophile needs to use the restroom or get a drink while inside the church building, the shepherd must accompany him (even into the bathroom). The shepherd should not lose sight of the pedophile.
    4. After worship, the pedophile should return to his car and leave the church grounds. The shepherd can then go to his Bible study group or his family.
    5. A pedophile should not attend Bible study on church property. There are too many risks in walking halls to a classroom to see and be seen by children and students. There is no upside to this. If the pedophile wants to attend a Bible study, then seek a male-only Bible study that meets elsewhere during the week (preferably a public venue like a coffee shop) that will accept him. But don’t force the group to do it.
    6. A pedophile should attend only worship and nothing else. No meals, no special events, no concerts, nothing. Worship only, and then only with an approved shepherd.
    7. That’s it – pedophile drives to church; waits in car for shepherd; walks to worship with shepherd; leaves worship to return to car and drives home.

If you and your leadership spend more time on this than on carrying out your vision and mission then you’ve spent way too much time on this; in fact, I’d say that if you spend more than an hour on each situation, you’ve spent too much time – after all, do you spend that much time on your active members, those who are contributing to the health and well-being of your church – invest in them first and pedophiles lastly. There are few (if any) documented cases of completely rehabilitated pedophiles. Invest your time wisely and not necessarily in rehabilitating pedophiles for which you and your staff are probably ill-equipped.

Yes, this seems harsh and you may be thinking I’ve gone too far. But let me say that this is a situation that the pedophile has placed himself – you didn’t put him into this, he did it to himself. Just like Spock in Star Trek says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Put the church and its minors first in importance and then see if the pedophile can fit into your situation. You should never feel that you need to accomodate the church to fit the needs of the pedophile – that is absurd!

Lead On!