Council of Churches president slams pastors charged with sexual abuse of childrenWednesday, June 16, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Distressing, deplorable, dastardly, ungodly, and unconscionable are just a few of the adjectives Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) President Reverend Newton Dixon used to describe reports of pastors charged with sexual abuse of children in recent weeks.
“I don't know if we have enough adjectives to describe this sad and disturbing situation. It is sad because the perpetrators of these acts are supposed to be individuals in society who people should be looking up to. Instead, of being protectors and providers of care we have pastors who are now predators,” Rev Dixon said yesterday.
“It is distressing, it is disheartening, and I want to use this opportunity to say to every single victim who has had to go through this kind of tremendous, harrowing experience, the church apologises and repents and asks for your forgiveness, and we make the commitment that we will now have to go again to look at what we have to do to protect you from this kind of victimisation,” Rev Dixon added.
The clergyman, in an interview with Richard “Richie B” Burgess on the Jamaica Observer's sister radio station The Edge 105FM, said screening, including psychological assessments and criminal background checks, for aspiring ministers has been taken on in some quarters and should be encouraged.
“I know, for example, that there is one denomination that requires that when candidates come for ministry they have to do psychological testing and they have to do a background check. That's the case in my church — a criminal background check and a psychological assessment — because not all that glitters is gold, and a lot of people come broken to ministry and, as we know, [are] hurting people,” he stated.
“So I would like to suggest that, within the life of the council, these are the avenues that we try to use to ensure that the right people — despite the fact that someone may claim they are called by God — we still have to do the due diligence to ensure they don't come in as predators,” he said.
In the meantime, he said the Jamaica Council of Churches has several safeguards to reduce the possibility of predatory behaviours and people within the council who are found guilty of such charges are defrocked immediately.
“There are three systems that we in the council have in place. One is our process of what we call formation. Most of our pastors are taken to the United Theological College, where they do not just academics but they have to engage in spiritual disciplines — how to develop moral character, the skills and disciplines of prayerfulness, watchfulness, and personal piety. These are things that are part of a formal course of study,” Rev Dixon shared.
“The second thing is that most, if not all member churches, have standards and regulations for professional and pastoral conduct for pastors,” he said.
“The third system that is a safeguard is the sabbatical. A lot of people don't stop to rest because of the zeal and the energy with which they approach their work, so most of our churches prescribe that every pastor takes time off, whether it is every five or four or seven years to rest. I think those are, in a sense, safeguards,” he said.
Asked whether he knew if the pastors recently charged were independently operating or were members of established denominations, Rev Dixon said, “The impression I have, and I am not sure I have the accurate information, is that these are independent persons.”
He said the issue of rogue ministers operating on their own whims has resurrected the debate about regulation of ministries across denominational boundaries.
In the meantime, he said the JCC is prioritising services for children who are victims abuse and is presently engaged in several programmes that address the issue of victimisation of children, including a programme focused on safe families with United Nations Children's Fund to be rolled out shortly.
“I shudder and shake with fear every time I drive on the road and see a six-year-old or five-year-old on their own on the street. I leave wondering will this child make it safely wherever they are going? And I want to say to Jamaicans, please, brothers and sisters, let's go back to caring for our children. Wherever the spaces, whatever the activities, we must make the safety of the children the priority, the most important objective in whatever we are doing. Whether it is economic activity, social activity, or even in the religious spaces,” Rev Dixon told Burgess.
“Item number one must be will the child benefit from this activity, will a child be safe, will a child feel comfortable in this engagement, and I think if we just keep that at the forefront of our minds, apart from all the issues with the law, if we just keep an attitude of prioritising the safety of our children, I think we will make a difference,” he stated.
On Monday, Pastor Jason Rose appeared before the St James Parish Court to answer charges of raping a 15-year-old girl on church premises in March. In a further twist, on June 11, the teenager's mother was arrested and charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice after the alleged victim told investigators her mother and the pastor's wife had been pressuring her to change her story.
Meanwhile, the pastor's wife, Kimoy Rose, is also to answer to charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice as well as other charges under the Child Care and Protection Act.
Last week detectives assigned to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) charged 23-year-old Portland pastor Jamar Harrison with rape of a 13-year-old girl.
According to the police, the minor and Harrison met via social media and eventually became intimate. On December 1, 2020 the complainant and her grandmother were taken to CISOCA when it was revealed that she was pregnant. The child's grandmother was charged for failing to report the matter to the Office of the Children's Registry.
On Monday, June 7, this year, a police operation was conducted in downtown Kingston and Harrison was apprehended. He was charged after a question and answer interview in the presence of his attorney.
He was remanded in custody and is scheduled to attend court tomorrow.
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