DENTON—Congregations should develop strategies for when—not if—a registered sex offender arrives at church, a licensed sex offender treatment provider told a group of Denton Baptist Association ministers.
A convicted sex offender on parole can attend a place of worship, but he or she must notify a minister or some other designated individual in authority and be accompanied by a chaperone who has completed court-approved training, said Cathy Champ, clinical director and therapist at Ranch Hand Rescue Counseling Center in Argyle.
“If the individual is not on probation or parole, a person on the sex offender registry does not have to tell the pastor or ask permission. But he should. It’s better for everyone,” Champ told a seminar on “When Sex Comes to Church,” held at First Baptist Church in Corinth.
Establish clearly defined boundaries
Not every sex offender is guilty of a contact offense, but all sex offenders need directive counseling, positive influences and clearly established boundaries, she noted.
An offender who is undergoing counseling or has completed treatment successfully should be willing to accept responsibility for past behavior, desire accountability and welcome appropriate boundaries, she said.
“As a minister, you can tell them: ‘We want our church to be safe. We want you to be safe, too.’ It will be helpful for them to have clear boundaries,” she said.
What to do
If a registered sex offender asks a minister for permission to attend worship services, Champ recommended the minister:
• Request the name and phone number of the individual’s probation officer or parole officer, if applicable.
• Ask questions about the offense for which the person was convicted, as well as what the offender actually did. While an individual may have been convicted for a single count of a lesser offense, a sex offender who wants to get better will take responsibility for other offenses committed, she noted.
“Listen for minimizing, cognitive distortions or blaming,” she said. “Listen for the word ‘just.’ That’s a sign they are not taking responsibility.”
• Inquire if the offender currently is receiving treatment or has completed treatment successfully. Ask for the name and contact information for any current or past counselor. Ask the offender to sign a release with that counselor, and then ask the counselor to contact the minister directly.
While the counselor does not have to provide details about counseling sessions, he or she should indicate whether the offender attends or attended treatment regularly and provide an evaluation regarding progress, she said.
• Ask if the offender already has a trained chaperone who will attend church with him. If not, some churches may chose to make the training available to a selected group of members who can serve in that capacity.
• Request a copy of the offender’s safety plan, once it has been approved. The plan should be a detailed set of guidelines that covers issues such as through which church door the offender should enter, where the individual sits in the sanctuary, which designated restroom will be used and which areas of the church building are off-limits.
Make a redemptive difference
Churches should establish clear policies about who in the congregation needs to know about a registered sex offender’s status, she suggested.
“You can help them by supporting the positive changes they are making and help them connect with positive social influences,” Champ said. “Give them concrete boundaries. It is for the protection of your church and for (the offender’s) protection.”
Churches need to be safe places for children, as well as places where sinners—including people with sex offenses in their past—can find redemption and transformation, she said.
“Jesus would be hanging out with sex offenders,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing he did.”