Sunday, December 2, 2007

Background checks aren't enough

For dealing with clergy sex abuse, Southern Baptist leaders’ current modus operandi seems to be encouraging background checks. At this point, it seems that’s about all they’re willing to do for the protection of kids in Southern Baptist churches.

For example, while questioning the need for a denominational database of credibly accused clergy, Southern Baptist president Frank Page pointed out that his own church “requires a nationwide sexual and criminal check on all volunteers if you work with anyone 18 years or younger.”

Several Southern Baptist state conventions recently passed resolutions urging churches to conduct background checks on prospective children’s workers.

And some state conventions have negotiated contracts with private companies for discounted rates on background checks. The Missouri Baptist Convention has a deal that purportedly “allows churches to do a national criminal file check for $5.00.”

Don’t get me wrong. Background checks are important. But they aren’t nearly enough. And if this is all that Southern Baptist leaders are willing to do, it’s pretty frightening.

Most other major faith groups have already recognized the inadequacy of background checks, and that’s why they also use denominational review boards to provide a safe place where victims can report abuse and have their reports considered in a responsible manner.

But Southern Baptists are way behind the curve on this. And since they’re the largest Protestant denomination in the land, their stubborn blindness leaves a whole lot kids at risk.

Why are background checks inadequate? Three main reasons were reported in a Florida news article last week.
  1. Those familiar with the criminal background screening industry state that, although “numerous companies promise cheap, fast, thorough background investigations” and may even promise "national criminal background checks," the reality is that “there is no such thing as a comprehensive national criminal background check that can be done by a private agency.” [Maybe someone should point out this reality to Frank Page? And I can’t help but wonder just how “national” that $5 check offered in Missouri really is.]

  2. “A lot of child molesters don’t have a record.” [Over 700 Catholic priests have now been removed from positions of ministry based on “credible accusations.” Most of them have never been convicted of anything. By Southern Baptist standards, those priests would still be able to continue in their ministries, preach from their pulpits, and sponsor kids on youth retreats. After all, they haven’t been convicted of anything, and Southern Baptists don’t even bother with determining “credible accusations.”]

  3. In reference checks, many previous employers “may not be candid for fear of being sued.” [Not only would many more victims speak up if there were a safe place within the denomination to report abuse, but many more ministers might voice their concerns about suspected abuse. Nowadays, many ministers are afraid to disclose their concerns in reference checks for fear that the other minister will sue for ruining his career.]

Background checks are nothing more than the bare basics of good business practices.

Most other faith groups are doing a great deal more than the bare basics.

Why aren’t Southern Baptist kids entitled to the same sorts of protections as Presybterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Lutheran kids?

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