Pedophiles at Church?

Such an important, and quite taboo, topic has come up at a neighboring church:  Whether or not to welcome a pedophile into their congregation. 

Like many congregations that have faced this issue, members are engaging in conversations to try to determine what the “right” policy should be.  Parents and caregivers are concerned about the safety of their children so are adamantly opposed to having pedophiles present while children are on property.  Others express feelings that church should be open for all those who seek a place to worship, that no one should be marginalized and that since this pedophile has seemingly shown regret for his crime and promises to not do it again, he should be welcomed.

Sincere efforts are being made to consider how to make decisions on this issue that are in alignment with mutual values and principles of members.  Articles and information are being shared.  Stress levels are elevated as they sort through statistics and emotions.

Unfortunately much of what is being shared is compiled stats grouping all “sex crimes” into survey results, thus leading to inaccurate reports about the risk factors.

For example, this statement appears in bold in one of the articles:

“Peer reviewed literature suggests that, depending on the nature of the offense and assuming successful completion of treatment, most treated sex offenders do not recidivate.”

This blanket statement is quite misleading for those seeking better understanding about the risk of having their children exposed to a pedophile.

“Sex offenders” is a broad category and clarification is needed when discussing the safety of our children.

Pedophiles as a group do not fall into the category of those who typically do not relapse; nor should “recidivating” alone be the scale with which we weigh this specific issue.    

I feel it is important to note that in almost all the documents being shared, the word “pedophile” is rarely emphasized, even though the topic being discussed is specifically about whether to, and how to, welcome pedophiles into our congregations.  The overall inclination of the authors leans towards using “sex offender” and “sexual misconduct” as descriptive words of choice, rather than the more accurate: pedophile. 

I am curious why that is? 

Is it more politically correct?

Broadening “pedophilia” to “sexual misconduct” depreciates the significance of this explicit concern.  It has a curtailing effect that serves to diminish the connotation, thus interfering with the discovery process. 

For my part, I cannot in good conscience, considering the severity of this topic, use anything other than absolute definitive words.  Additionally, it is crucial to seek out the precision of facts that apply to the specific subject matter. 

What is unique about pedophiles compared to other sex offenders?

What is the underlying motive or cause that leads to the actions?

Why is it important to understand these distinctions in weighing risk factors?

Pedophiles are adults and post-pubescent teens who are sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children.

Most other sex crimes are the manifestation of anger/rage and, while sexual in content, have very little to do with sexuality itself. Anger management therapy, mindfulness practices, and medication for mental illnesses that trigger anger are ways to repress and even transform and heal the anger that leads to such crimes.  

Not so with pedophiles.

Whether they were born as pedophiles or become pedophiles as a tragic result of being themselves young victims of a sexual predator, there is no “cure” at present.  Can they be treated?  Yes.  They can engage in therapy to help manage their sexual urges.  They can take medications to reduce their sex-drive. But there is no guarantee the urge is eliminated, certainly not forever.

So, in my opinion with the information I have available today, pedophiles should not be allowed near children. Period.

“Where is the compassion?” some may ask.  “If Pedophilia is a mental illness or a sexual orientation we should be welcoming and embracing, right?”  

My feeling?

Not in a way that compromises the safety of our children or the well-being of our families.  

The risk is too high to allow pedophiles contact with children, to be allowed to even from an arm’s-length distance get to know a child’s routines, behaviors, preferences, etc.  (Seriously,  it would not take long for a pedophile to know Child A likes the color pink and Child B is an avid iPad gamer – points of entry for pedophiles to gain trust).  

If the pedophile becomes a “familiar face” to the child, a face they know from a “safe place” like church, that child is “at risk” if/when the pedophile is unable or unwilling to keep his/her desires in check. 

Sure, we can attempt to put in place some “safe” policies where a “buddy” is assigned to be with the pedophile at all times during church functions, but what of the rest of the hours in the days of the week, hours in which the children could come across the pedophile outside church walls without the safety mechanisms in place? The children will know the pedophile from seeing him at church, the children will observe trusted adults smiling as they engage with the pedophile and thus make the natural assumption that this person is a “friend” and “safe.” This is one of the most important things to look at – on what basis could we possibly condone exposing our children to a known danger in a place where we covenant is safe for them? 

Turning toward another important factor, the ramifications incurred by the families with young children.  The mere presence of a sexual predator causes stress on parents and caretakers.  They will be 100% focused on being on full alert to keep their child safe, instead of being able to relax and enjoy the second-home environment being at church is supposed to instill in families. 

Looking through another lens, one that is also tied into the league of illness and impulses:


When an individual is diagnosed as a drug/alcohol addict, it is recommended that he not stock a medicine cabinet of drugs or have quantities of liquor in his house because the temptation would be great to use.  Addicts are advised not only to keep these things out of their homes, but also to refrain from going to establishments where it is readily available like bars. Out of concern and kindness for individuals who are recovering addicts, we would not invite them into situations where they would be tempted.  Why would we treat a pedophile with less care?   How can it be a good idea to invite pedophiles to spend time with children?

Compassion? It is an act of compassion towards the pedophile to not place them in a situation where temptation abounds.

Does this mean that pedophiles do not have a right to be part of a religious community? No. In fact, I suspect that they need and benefit from church as much as anyone else.  Especially if they are struggling to not abuse children.  

As UUs we adhere to the principle of the inherent dignity and worth of every person.  While we may struggle with this at times when we encounter abhorrent situations, this principle of dignity and worth is no less so in application to those who commit violent crimes, even crimes the majority of us simply cannot comprehend.

With that in mind, the question should become,How can we serve those who long to be part of our community, while keeping everyone safe? Especially those most vulnerable among us, our children? 

For congregations that wish to serve pedophiles, I think the wisest decision would be to offer a small group ministry options, perhaps as a vespers service, where pedophiles would be welcome to the church at a time where no children will be present.  The calendar should be clearly marked that it is an adult-only group (and specify why it is adult-only so there is no chance an uninformed guardian would bring a child to attend).

For pedophiles who wish to “give back” to their church community in a volunteer capacity, once again this should be in a way that does not expose them to children.  There are no shortage of places one can contribute time in a church. And plenty of opportunities to do so in the absence of the presence of children.

Perhaps as medical and behavioral science advances, cures to the affliction of Pedophilia can be found.  Until then, it is important for our congregations’ policies to reflect their responsibility to be a safe place for our children.

May our congregations always and all ways provide our children with the safe roots needed for healthy growth.  May we protect their wings through to maturity so they can fly unhindered.

~ Rev. “Twinkle” Marie Manning

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“It takes so little to make a child happy, that it is a pity in a world full of sunshine and pleasant things, that there should be any wistful faces, empty hands, or lonely little hearts.”

Louisa May Alcott, Little Men

“You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

…For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

– Kahlil Gibran


so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

– Kahlil GibranPhoto Credit