Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman And Rev. Peter Morales Have Both Responded To The Open Letter About Clergy Sexual Misconduct Of Nashville U*Us
April 2, 2009
Denominational Affairs Committee
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville
Dear Alan and Members of the Committee,
Thank you for your letter regarding the UUA’s response to cases of ministerial sexual misconduct. Let me say at the outset that I understand how painful the experience of Nashville has been. My campaign manager, Dea Brayden, came from Nashville. So, too, did our minister of music, Keith Arnold. I am a close colleague of Mary Katherine Morn, and the topic has come up with Jason Shelton. The pain around this incident, even after all these years, is plainly evident.
Since I received your letter I have read the recommendations of the “Restorative Justice for All” report. I have also had a long conversation with Fred Muir, who not only was involved in drafting the report, but has also had continuing involvement with this issue. I have also read subsequent UUA publications, including a report on Safe Congregations written in 2004. With that as background, let me respond to your questions.
Would I would carry out all 13 recommendations of the 2000 report? After looking at subsequent documents and discussing the situation with Fred Muir, I would say that I think it would be wiser to revisit those recommendations in light of developments in the last nine years. I am not “passing the buck” here or being evasive. We need to look at our recent experience and at current practices of other churches and other organizations like colleges and universities. Sadly, there have been cases of sexual misconduct by ministers since the report was written. It does not look like they were handled as well as we might wish. Also, the UUA’s current practice needs to change immediately. The position now charged with hearing complaints, the director of congregational services, is being phased out. We will need an interim solution while we examine where we should go in the long term.
I am fully committed to taking action. To me, this is a moral imperative. I would seek input from the UUMA and advocacy groups. I would insist that we look at best practices in other associations. Certain criteria would inform any final implementation. One of these would be that a victim receive immediate and compassionate response. My own bias, from what I know of other organizations, is that we need to separate the pastoral and healing response to the victim from the process of judging the offense and taking any disciplinary action. Many organizations, including the UUA, have employee assistance programs where outside organizations handle response to personal issues with complete confidentiality. Again, however, I would want us to look at what experts consider current best practice.
Your second question concerns the critical issues of prevention and support to victims and congregations. The short answer is “yes, of course.” And again, I do not pretend to be an expert on what form that should take. I am absolutely committed to doing the right thing, and I understand that we have fallen far short in the past. The important thing for the president is to consult with advocacy groups and people who have expertise, so that what we do is compassionate, timely and effective. We have, for example, a well developed model for responding to crises. There is a trauma response team that has proven itself to be effective. Perhaps this model should be adapted to cases of clergy sexual misconduct. I would want to see a careful analysis of the options.
As to the area of prevention, there are many things we can do. None, alas, is perfect. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to be frank about the issue and to train clergy and congregations about safe congregation practices.
In summary, I understand how painful and damaging clergy sexual misconduct is. I am committed to making ours a safer and a more compassionate movement. Any action I would take would be as the result of careful analysis of best practices and the painful lessons we have learned from our own experience.
TO: The Denominational Affairs Committee of the Nashville, Tennessee Church
FROM: Laurel Hallman
RE: Your letter about Clergy sexual misconduct
DATE: April 17, 2009
Thank you for your question about clergy sexual misconduct and what the UUA’s response will be in my administration. I appreciate the time you have given me to reflect with people who have been working on the troubling effects of clergy sexual misconduct, both within and outside our Association. We all agree that silence is never the answer to this abuse of power.
More than any other profession, the minister carries the power of the office into relationships. Abuse of that power affects the survivor’s very soul. It also affects the soul and spirit of the congregation in which that minister has served. It goes to the heart of our faith to ask serious questions of justice, compassion and hope when the abuse occurs. As soon as possible after the election, I will gather survivors of clergy abuse in our association to talk with me about their experience, whether recent or distant. I will not defend, obfuscate, or discount any person’s experience. I will listen. I will be as transparent as I can be about what is possible, going forward. I can’t promise that I will be able to do everything contained in the 2001 Muir Report, or answer all the questions presented to the board in 2007. I will promise as President to do everything possible, with the resources available, to strengthen our structures of justice, our ministry to survivors, and our ongoing monitoring of complaints through final resolution.
We are fortunate at this time that the President of the UUMA, the Chair of the MFC, and the UUA Moderator are deeply committed to transparency, education, and appropriate procedures when charges of misconduct are brought. I will urge the UUMA and the MFC as well as the UUA Board to continue their educational and procedural work so that our programs of education and prevention always represent best practices and serve the work of justice.
Collaboration will be key to my presidency, and thus I look forward to collaborating with the survivors on this important issue. Thank you for bringing it to the forefront of the campaign.