A local pastor is on the sex offender registry

I'm worried that others may not know this -- should I warn the congregation?

Published November 28, 2006 12:09PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

The pastor of a local church who is also an award-winning volunteer firefighter is on the registered sex offenders list. I'm not a native of this small town but I've been here for several years and I've heard a couple of different versions of why he's on the list. Some of the stories that I've heard don't even make any sense, so I'm not going to print them here.

Whatever he did is really beside the point. My concern is that nobody tells you when you go to this church that he is a sex offender. I happened to find out on my own and felt very betrayed. So here is my question. If I know that someone is going to join that church should I tell them to check the Web site?

Trying Not to Judge

Dear Trying Not to Judge,

I think I understand what you mean when you say that whatever he did is beside the point. You mean that the real issue is what to do now.

But in order to know what to do now -- and it is your decision, not mine -- I think you do need to know what he did.

A man in a public position of trust is obliged to address any facts about his past that reflect badly on him, whatever they are. It comes with the job. But the phrase "registered sex offender" has awesome power to destroy a reputation.

So you need to ask what he did, and what your purpose would be in publicizing the fact that he is on the sex offender registry.

Is he a threat? What did he do? Did he expose himself at a shopping mall? Did he have sex with an underage person? Did he commit a violent rape? Did he molest children? How long ago? What were the consequences? Did he undergo therapy? Is he under current supervision by law enforcement? Is he currently in therapy?

How can you decide if he is a threat? What is the recidivism rate for his crime? The likelihood of one person's repeating an offense is a notoriously difficult thing to assess.

What would be the consequences to him if you were to make this revelation? Would he lose his job?

I certainly have no easy answers.

So before you do anything you need to know the facts.

I suggest you go to him and have a frank conversation. Yes, you need to speak with him personally.

Make a private appointment with him and tell him what you know. Tell him the truth -- that you are disturbed by what you know. Ask him what steps he is taking to ensure that the damage he has done in the past is not repeated in the future.

You may find out that the entire allegation is false. If that happens, you will be very glad you consulted with him privately before spreading it. Or you may learn shocking facts that are difficult to bear. Or you may find that you are unable to learn anything -- you may leave more confused than when you started.

After you have your frank, private conversation, then it's up to you what to do. You need to spend some time thinking about what he has told you and whether you believe him. You may want to consult the criminal record yourself.

I would also say this: If he does persuade you that he is not a danger, then you should not stop there. You then need to go talk this over with others, with an expert, perhaps, or with a counselor or psychologist or trusted confidant. No one is immune to persuasion. You need to check your decision with others before concluding that it is the best course.

Certain laws may also be relevant to your ultimate actions. If you are considering accusing him of being a sex offender or some sort of threat to the community, or of hiding something in his past, for instance, I would consult with a lawyer first.

If you are a religious person, but not a member of this particular church, I would also consult with the leader of your own church about this matter. It is a grave and difficult subject.

This may sound like a lot to do. It is. But life in a community requires much of us.

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