Officials at the Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia (VPC) decided to acknowledge the churches failures in handling reports of sexual abuse by its Youth Ministry Director. The church’s governing board expected their statement would upset the congregation, but it didn’t expect their insurance company’s response. The company’s lawyers warned the Board “not to make any statements, orally, in writing or in any other manner, to acknowledge, admit to or apologize for anything that might be interpreted as VPC causing or contributing to any damages arising from the intentional acts/abuse/misconduct by the Youth Director. The lawyers then added this proviso, that failure to comply with these conditions would jeopardize their coverage.
The church wrote back saying their advice may be correct from a legal perspective, but from the Church’s perspective they would do the right thing… “Doing what is right is informed by our understanding of what God would have us do, so there’s a very clear standard articulated in Scripture”. The church added they believed that coverage was deserved and even if the insurers refused, they would do it anyway.
The risks of such a course were substantial. If the church lost its argument and insurers were not responsible for paying future claims they might have to close the doors. In spite of the consequences on Sunday, March 27, 2011 Pastor James addressed the congregation and said (USA Today, 5/10/11): “we won’t hide behind lawyers… Jesus said the truth will set us free”. Looking at survivors he said “we as church leaders were part of the harm in failing to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed. Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed in this church. I am truly sorry… I regret the harm this neglect has caused you”.
The argument between the church and its insurer about potential liabilities remains in limbo , and if no lawsuits are filed it may never be resolved. I applaud the Church’ stand; when what’s right comes down to a lawyer’s truth or the Church’s, you know whose truth will set you free.