Courts & Crime

Church leaders working to protect kids from sexual abuse

The Rev. Kay Doyle, dismayed by the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the U.S. Catholic Church eight years ago, felt some comfort in distance. A pastor of a small Carmichael church, she didn't worry about such problems in her congregation. And then the distance closed.

Her church organist was accused of sexually molesting a minor and arrested in October. Doyle, pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church for 13 years, was unprepared. James Charles Jordan, 53, was charged with six counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14.

"We had no experience with this," said Doyle. "It was awful for everyone, because there weren't any guidelines."

Even now, many faith leaders still struggle to find ways to protect their most vulnerable members. Religious leaders in the Sacramento area have adopted policies — from screening prospective workers to codes of conduct — that are sometimes as different as their approach to worship.

Methodists who work with children or vulnerable adults, for example, must be fingerprinted and undergo a background check through the Department of Justice. Mormons are interviewed by their local bishops to determine if they are worthy to serve. Southern Baptists are not required to screen any church workers.

And Catholic workers in the Sacramento diocese, including all employees and volunteers, must adhere to a written code of conduct that emphasizes appropriate boundaries.

Mary Hastings, coordinator of the Safe Environment Program for the diocese, said, for example, that a priest cannot give a child a ride home from catechism class, as he may have done in the past. And the code advises priests not to be alone with children, except for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, commonly known as confession.

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