Seeking redemption and peace

Guest Editorial

September 23, 2015 | Editorial | Volume 19 Issue 19
Joyce Gladwell |

Canadian Mennonite received a copy of a letter sent to David Martin, executive minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, as a response to its releasing the story on the alleged sexual misconduct of the late Vernon Leis (Sept. 14, 2014, page 16). We have offered MC Eastern Canada space in our next issue to present its case.

I am writing to you in your capacity as executive minister of MC Eastern Canada regarding the decisions and action taken by your conference representatives around the allegations against Vernon Leis.

I write as a member of Waterloo North Mennonite Church, as a friend of the Leis family since the 1970s, and as one who continues to benefit from the groundbreaking work done by Vernon in Elmira and Woolwich Township in that decade.

I am aware of how little I know of your process and of the reasons behind your decisions, though I can well imagine how difficult it has been for you and the conference representatives to come to your position. I can therefore only speak of the impact on me and on others around me.

The outcome of your decision to identify Vernon publicly—in particular, the re-traumatization of Vernon’s immediate family, including his 84-year-old widow—has left me, and others in my circle, stunned, wounded and angry.

We are asking: How necessary was it for Vernon to be publicly identified? Since he is no longer living, he cannot victimize anyone else and therefore it is not necessary to identify him in order to protect others from becoming his victims. Therefore, we ask, what other reasons lie behind your decision?

Secondly we ask: On the basis of what evidence have you named Vernon as a likely abuser? It is notoriously difficult, I know, to find evidence in these cases. You followed the only route open to you: You listened and discerned, since reports state that you found the allegations compelling and credible. But you heard from one person only—if reports are accurate—and you were not able to have a balancing interview with Vernon. Does that not leave the process of discernment open to bias and possible error?

Ever since biblical times, it has been held that, for justice to be served, accusations are to be brought by at least two witnesses. Lacking a second voice—either that of Vernon or another victim—did you not have reason enough to delay exposure?

Thirdly, we ask: In whose interest was public disclosure made? As a retired marriage and family therapist, I share the overriding concern that there may be other victims, and some who may still need encouragement to come forward for support and healing.

My question is this: Was it necessary to make an announcement to the entire congregation in the three churches where Vernon served? Since Vernon died at age 60, 21 years ago, any victims would now be women in the middle years of life.  Could you have discreetly informed the women of this age group in each congregation in order to reach other victims?

Let me add one other consideration: People who have been deeply hurt may harbour a vengeful wish to shame the offender publicly. Having this wish granted is not necessary for healing. On the contrary, it is an unhealthy detour likely to undermine the victim’s progress in growth and maturing. Leaders and counsellors would do well to stand firm and not promote or cater to this desire.

Given these considerations, please help us to understand the actions you have taken at such risk to Vernon’s reputation and such cost to his family and friends. We look forward to your response.

May God redeem this situation and bring us peace.

Joyce Gladwell,
Waterloo, Ont.


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