What are we obliged to do – both as Christians and as citizens – to protect children, youth or adults we suspect may be being abused either by members of the church, within their families or by those outside the community of faith?
As Christians, we are bound by our baptisms to care for one another – and to care particularly for the young, the aged, and the vulnerable among us. Pastors, church school teachers, pastoral care providers, youth workers and those involved in the ministry of hospitality and caring for the sick within a congregation may be the first – or only – person a victim of abuse confides in.
Even if we are not directly told by the victim (who may be too afraid or unable to speak), we may be the ones who first suspect that a child, youth or adult is being abused. When we are explicitly told of abuse, both the Christian love of our neighbor and the law require that we act to report abuse to the appropriate secular authorities. But if we only suspect abuse, it is much harder for us to know what to do.
Each of the six states in the New England Conference clearly defines who is a mandated reporter under the law - and each of these states' laws requires that anyone who suspects the abuse of a minor or an elderly person report it to the appropriate legal authority.
The confidentiality of communications between a pastor and a congregant is not protected when it comes to confessions or suspicions of abuse. In five of the six New England states, there is no exemption for clergy communication. Maine exempts information received during confidential communication between pastor and congregant, but requires clergy to report abuse that is discovered or suspected in the performance of their regular responsibilities as clergy.
Click the links below to find applicable law and appropriate reporting agencies for each state.
The Safe Havens Interfaith Partnership Against Domestic Violence has information and resources on a number of topics including: