Felons and the church

comments turned off as this is a highly emotional topic

First a little history.

Back in the summer of 2016, a member of my church was caught downloading a file containing suspected child porn and seeding it to other torrent users.  He was arrested some time after that, and the first we really heard of it was in November 2016.  See http://wildhunt.org/2016/11/north-carolina-druid-arrested-for-disseminating-obscenities.html for the story as told by the Wild Hunt.  When this happened, my church did the responsible thing and removed him from any and all leadership roles, which were as a deputy Regional Druid and as a Grove Organizer, and basically barred him from taking on any leadership roles until this all played out in the courts.  At the start of April 2017, the case had gone before the judge, and they plead guilty to a lesser charge and  avoided the worst punishment.  See http://wildhunt.org/2017/04/pagan-community-notes-scott-holbrook-florida-pagans-robin-fletcher-south-africa-march-and-more.html and his blog that is linked within the article.

That is the background, and I'm not making any commentary on that.  My commentary is how my church handled the whole matter when the court stuff was done.

Shortly after everything was done, there was an announcement from the board of directors:

It has recently come to our attention that former ADF Protogrove leader Scott Holbrook's case has been resolved through the courts with a guilty verdict leading to a felony conviction. ADF does not automatically ban people with convictions from membership, as we believe everyone should have access to our church and public worship. We do however disallow those with certain felony convictions from holding leadership positions within the organization. Per the court, Mr. Holbrook is not required to register as a sex offender, therefore not automatically restricted from a leadership position. However, Mr. Holbrook does not hold any position of leadership within ADF, and we don't anticipate him holding one in the foreseeable future. We wish healing to all parties involved, and may the Kindreds bless all of us.

On the face of it, this seems reasonable.  That was until the last couple days.  Someone has paid the local courts for a copy of the transcript of the trial.  Their reading (and the reading of others that have read the transcript) has been that the account published on his blog does not match what is in the transcript.  This is now, from my understanding, again before the board of directors.

What concerns me is why didn't the board of directors request an official record, and if they did, then why were the transcripts not part of that or why did they ignore them?  Why did they, from all appearances, trust the word of the person that has the most to gain by not telling the whole truth?  What concerns me just as much is that we put in place a policy and process to deal with these kinds of things over 2 years ago.  We have a position of a human services specialist that is supposed to be handling any highly confidential information, specifically to deal with sex offenders and related.  To my knowledge, this policy was enacted and completely neglected.  The position has not been advertised to be filled at all over the 2 years, and as far as I know it has never been filled.

Every case needs to be evaluated individually.  I'm not making any judgment on this specific one because I don't have all the legal information in front of me.  There are plenty of times where you have an over zealous prosecutor push a case that was truly an accident, and I have at least one friend that has fallen under that.  There are also those that are on the sex offender list because they were legally an adult and their partner was legally a minor, but they were within a couple years of age... technically statutory rape but usually excused most places because of the closeness of age... but prosecuted in one case I am aware of because the parents didn't like who their kid was dating.  We have plenty of cases where the person has a good lawyer and/or money and they get off light when they deserve more.  

These are the legal grey areas that the position that was created is supposed to be keeping tabs on.  They are supposed to be creating an action plan to deal with that member, get them and any local group they relate with to be on the same page, and limitations, if any, put in place with the limitations being tailored to the individual and their crimes.  With the quick response that we had to the conviction, it is clear that this process did not happen.  Why, 25 months after the policy was created, has it not been implemented?

I am now hearing of long term members that are questioning if they should renew, with the way this was handled being a piece of their reasons not to renew.  I have heard of multiple people that are considering not going to events because of the way this was handled.  They question how the church can give backing to someone that was convicted of a felony, that is known to be in the community, and know that it stemmed from viewing pornography of a minor.  They are asking how they did not put any restrictions on their membership to protect the membership?  They're even allowing him to potentially become a leader again!  (see edit below.)

Yes, this is a difficult subject all around.  I understand wanting to be compassionate to the person who got convicted.  I emphasize with those that want their family protected at events and rituals.  There are surely plenty of people within this and every church that don't tell people about their past, and blend in with the congregation that are just as bad if not worse than this specific case.  There is nothing that can be done with those people.  With people we know about though, the policy should be followed to protect our members, and as far as I know, it has not been implemented yet.

 

Edit:

After I wrote the original draft of this post, the following statement was made by the board of directors:

ADF member Scott Holbrook recently pled no contest to the charge of ‘disseminating an obscenity’, and the obscenity being of a sexual nature and involving children. Discrepancies between public statements made by Mr. Holbrook and information contained in the publicly released court transcript from his conviction were cause for immediate concern.

After careful consideration of the information available and with regard to our current policy concerning Convicted and Registered Sex Offenders, the ADF Mother Grove has unanimously voted to indefinitely ban Scott Holbrook from holding any position of responsibility in ADF locally or nationally. ADF’s policy can be found here: https://www.adf.org/members/org/docs/policy/sexual-misconduct.html

ADF leadership remains committed to protecting our members and the organization and considers actions resulting in the exploitation of children to present considerable risk.

If new legal information is brought forth at a later date that refutes the court transcript, Scott Holbrook can appeal this ruling to the ADF Member’s Advocate

This having happened within a day or two of the "new" information coming to light, it also points to my point in this post... they still are not using the established policy that was put in place specifically for this kind of thing.

Second Edit:

About 24 hours after this was posted, the human services position was advertized as needing to be filled.  I have to correct what I said above, it was originally advertized March 27, 2017, a full 2 years after the policy was enacted.  With it being advertized again, it convirms that there is nobody in that position, and that it is likely they did not follow the policy in full.