Monterey Herald -- The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has formally adopted constitutional changes aimed at preventing and punishing sexual abuse by clergy.
The ratification of 11 constitutional changes by presbyteries, or regional governing bodies, of the Louisville-based denomination comes three years after a report on the sexual abuse of children of missionaries at boarding schools in the Congo, the church announced this past week.
The new regulations, which will become part of the church's Book of Order on July 3, impose stricter requirements for reporting abuse to civil authorities and give accusers more say in the disciplinary process.
"It's a beginning, and I hope that the passage brings the subject before the (individual) churches so they will all write policies and procedures, so they'll know what to do" in cases of abuse, said Pat Hendrix, the sexual-misconduct ombudsman for the denomination's Worldwide Ministries Division.
In 2002, the 2.4-million-member Protestant denomination documented cases of abuse of the children of missionaries to the Congo extending from the 1940s into the 1970s. Most of the abuse was blamed on an American missionary, William Pruitt, who died in 1999 and was also accused of abusing children in the United States.
A separate investigation is still under way into reports of abuse of missionary children in Ethiopia and Cameroon, the denomination said.
While the Roman Catholic Church has received most of the attention for cases of sexual abuse by clergy, the Presbyterian changes are a reflection of how seriously that denomination is taking the issue, said the Rev. Paul Masquelier, vice chairman of the Presbyterian denomination's General Assembly Council and chairman of the task force that drafted the amendments.
"These were all changes that needed to be made, but there was a question whether the church nationally recognized whether they were important to make," he said.
Among the changes: Ministers, deacons and elders must report to civil authorities if they know of abuse, or the risk of abuse. The only exception is when they learn of abuse in a "confidential communication," but that exception does not apply if they suspect "risk of future physical harm or abuse."