Statement to the General Assembly Council
by Barbara Renton, GAC chair
September 28, 2002
I want to give you some background information about the next item in our report of actions taken by the Executive Committee.
You may recall two years ago, at its April meeting in Washington DC, the Executive Committee created an Independent Committee of Inquiry to look into allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children by Presbyterian missionaries in Africa, between 1945 and 1978.
A number of allegations had been filed in Grace Presbytery against one of our former missionaries, the Reverend William Pruitt. He died before that investigation could be finished, and in accordance with the provisions of our Rules of Discipline, the investigative process came to a halt.
In an effort to "help the survivors, the well-being of the larger Christian community, the General Assembly-level offices, and the integrity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)" we created the Independent Committee of Inquiry with an explicit pastoral, rather than judicial, purpose.
We met with representatives of the Independent Committee of Inquiry on Wednesday, and received their report with heavy hearts, but proud of their work in pursuit of the truth. The Independent Committee of Inquiry has done a wonderful job in presenting the dynamics of life in a mission community, clarifying areas of ambiguity about the abusive experience, and reflecting on the experience in a way that provides wisdom and insight. Their work prompts us to examine our policies, practices, and support systems for missionary work. It urges us to implement practices of abuse prevention, so that we can promote healing, justice and renewal within the church. We are very grateful for their work.
The report of the Independent Committee of Inquiry has three components: a two-page summary, a 173-page "final" report, and a 30-page "need-to-know" supplement. The Committee asked us to delay the publication of their findings until they had a chance to notify those they interviewed in this matter, and we have agreed to their request, in keeping with our pastoral purpose for the report.
The two-page summary and the 173-page final report will become public next week and we will be mailing a copy to each member of the GAMC.
When you receive the report, you will read the Committee's inescapable conclusion that a significant number of missionary children in the Congo were victims of physical and sexual abuse. You will also find that if our previous administrators and field personnel acted more aggressively and decisively on information they had, further abuse might have been averted.
The Executive Committee felt great pain upon hearing these findings.
In response to the report, the Executive Committee took several actions.
In our first action, we approved sending a letter to those survivors identified by the Independent Committee voicing our acknowledgement and apology for the abuses that occurred. We will also extend our commitment for continuing care and the sponsorship of a retreat, as called for by the report.
In our second action, we have acted upon several documents proposed by the Independent Committee of Inquiry to enforce the confidentiality of the work they have done. We've passed guidelines for handling requests for the "need-to-know" supplement and for how the sealed files, which will be stored at the Presbyterian Historical Society, should be handled. The confidentiality provisions surrounding the work of the Independent Committee of Inquiry were the most sacred trusts they received from survivors. The work could not have been completed had confidentiality not been granted. As a result, you will not find the names of the survivors in any of the documents produced by the Independent Committee of Inquiry, and the files will be sealed to protect their identity.
In our third action, I've been directed to appoint a work group to receive the thirty recommendations of the Independent Committee of Inquiry and to direct the work group to bring back action items for us over the course of the next year. It will take us some time to consider the thirty recommendations and other issues which may come to light, but we must act to preserve the integrity of the church.
Finally, we acted to dismiss the Independent Committee of Inquiry, as of the end of the month, with our deep gratitude for their effective ministry.
These items come to you as information, rather than action items, because you haven't yet received the report. The report will be sent to you next week, following the guidelines requested by the Independent Committee of Inquiry.
This is a very important report, and I look forward to the Council being able to talk more about it at a future meeting when the recommendations of the work group are brought forward.