Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) has received an allegation of sexual and ethical misconduct against a former credentialed pastor, the late Vernon Leis. “It is a painful recognition of human sin and failure,” says an August 31 news release from MCEC. “In the midst of this challenging and painful situation, MCEC will do its best to walk alongside all those who are impacted.”
Leis, 60, was killed in a head-on collision while driving home in the late afternoon of Feb. 26, 1994, on Highway 7 near Baden, Ont. Pastor of East Zorra Mennonite Church (Tavistock, Ont.), Leis, a well-known figure in the conference, was the first moderator of MCEC and chair of the Canadian Mennonite Publisher Service, among other positions. (See more about him at GAMEO.)
In a situation such as this, the release says, “MCEC typically removes the pastor from ministry until an investigation has been completed. As part of such an investigation, the accused pastor is advised of the specifics of the accusation, and given an opportunity to respond and tell his/her side of the story.
“In the case of an allegation against a deceased pastor, it was not possible to follow the usual investigative course, nor to give the pastor an opportunity to respond,” says MCEC. MCEC’s Executive Council therefore established a task group to advise on how to respond to this unique situation. After review, MCEC is satisfied that the complainant’s account is sufficiently compelling and credible, despite MCEC’s inability to test it in the usual investigative fashion.
As a result of this review process, MCEC feels compelled to release the name of the pastor. “This is an important step in facilitating the process of healing because it allows the affected parties and the wider faith community to confront a hidden truth and bring it into the light for healing. As painful as it may be, we as a faith community are called to support those paths that lead to healing and wholeness.
“MCEC holds all pastors to a high standard of ethical conduct. We want to assure congregations that we have policies, procedures, and training for pastoral leaders that promote safe and ethical interactions between pastors and participants in our faith communities. MCEC commits to ongoing review and strengthening of these safeguards. In addition, MCEC also has a web-based resource, for understanding, reporting, and responding to sexual misconduct by church leaders.”
When contacted by Canadian Mennonite for a response to the allegations, the Leis family had no comment.
The above summary of the MCEC statement is very helpful. MCEC makes clear that the accusation is not of illegal behavior but rather the exploitation of the pastoral position. A credible accusation remains without consequence unless those who knew him have reason to believe it. Then and only then is his reputation diminished. And what of the opinion of those who never knew him? If the agenda is to prevent clergy abuse, no foul. If the agenda is to promote conviction without trial, no fair.
MCEC has made an investigation, but is not qualified to make a judgement.
The proper legal process should be followed - examination of the evidence, facing the accuser, trial by peers, and access to legal counsel. The accuser also has the same rights. MCEC is not a law court, and the defendant died twenty plus years ago.
This investigation can only issue in gossip and rumour - it cannot claim to have unearthed facts that are certain.
This means it is of no value to the accuser, MCEC, or the family and friends of Mr. Vernon Leis.
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