MC Eastern Canada changes pastoral misconduct procedures

Regional church apologizes for misinterpretation and misapplication in recent misconduct case

November 18, 2020 | News | Volume 24 Issue 24
Ross W. Muir | Managing Editor

Mennonite Church Eastern Canada staff “will now consider any ministerial sexual misconduct complaints, including anonymous and second-hand concerns, to be sufficient to open an investigation.”

The decision was made after the regional church announced in June the termination of Wilmer Martin’s ministerial credential on the grounds of ministerial misconduct and ministerial sexual misconduct during his tenure as pastor of Erb Street Mennonite Church, Waterloo, Ont., between 1978 and 1991. 

Following the announcement, regional church leadership “received multiple letters expressing concern about the process and the delay involved, particularly since complaints about the offender resurfaced and came to [MC Eastern Canada] staff’s attention in late 2017 and the investigation did not start until January 2020,” a press release issued by the regional church on Oct. 23 said.

“The regional church’s Executive Council asked three external reviewers to independently review the process that led to the commencement of the misconduct investigation,” the release went on to say. “This review was undertaken by two people with responsibility for the binational Mennonite Church Ministerial Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure [manual] and one person with expertise in dealing with historical sexual misconduct.”

The Executive Council received the findings of these reviewers in September. The review “independently and unanimously concluded that [MC Eastern Canada] staff unnecessarily delayed the commencement of the investigation by requiring a signed first-hand complaint to initiate the process,” according to the release.

The Policy and Procedure manual definition of a “complaint” does not include the term “first-hand.” It is defined as: “A written allegation of misconduct, signed by a complainant, including the name of the accused and, as much as possible, the date, time, location, circumstances, names of any witnesses and other relevant information.” Nor is the term “first-hand” found elsewhere in the manual.

The MC Eastern Canada release explained the reason for requiring a first-hand signed complaint in order to begin an investigation: “The staff’s intent was to protect the confidentiality and wishes of victim-survivors; and to follow the [Policy and Procedure manual] as closely as they could in accordance with their understanding of it.”

MC Eastern Canada leadership “sincerely regrets and apologizes for this misinterpretation and misapplication of the [Policy and Procedure manual] and the consequent delay,” the release continued. “We sincerely wish we had acted sooner. We deeply regret the harm the significant delay caused to victim-survivors and their families, as well as the faith community at Erb Street Mennonite Church, especially those who advocated for and supported victim-survivors. We recognize that our response to ministerial sexual misconduct must be significantly better.”

The review noted that, according to the Policy and Procedure manual, “once a complaint is made to [MC Eastern Canada] staff, it is the role of an independent investigation team to determine the credibility of the concerns.” It determined that neither regional church staff nor congregational councils, boards, committees or ministers “should be involved in building a case with or for the complainant or the respondent.”

“This delay has no impact on the findings of ministerial misconduct in this case,” the release stated. 

Dealing with victims who are afraid of the church

Besides making “improvements to its processes regarding allegations of ministerial sexual misconduct,” the press release stated that “church leadership has also heard from some victims of sexual misconduct that they do not feel able to voice their concerns directly to [MC Eastern Canada]. They fear the possible loss of confidentiality and are afraid of dealing with the investigation process without support.”

While the Policy and Procedure manual provides for a contact person to support the complainant where there is a concern about ministerial sexual misconduct, going forward the contact list will also include Christian counsellors who are not members of the Mennonite church to choose from. “This ensures that the complainant can receive support throughout the process,” the press release stated.

“We are committed to ensuring that victim-survivors are heard and more easily protected through these revised procedures,” the MC Eastern Canada release concluded. 

To read the whole Policy and Procedure manual, visit bit.ly/312nBG1.

Related story:
Pastoral misconduct investigation mishandled, says complainant

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