Far more common are irresponsible persons who, although they would never
think of themselves as capable of doing harm to another human being, use alcohol
or other substances to release themselves from their own ethical commitments.
Indeed, the prospect of such release may be the largest single purpose of the
abuse. Common, too, are individuals who exercise poor judgment for a variety of
The risks such persons pose to children, teenagers, and vulnerable adults are
grave, extending to the breach of selfhood, of psychological and physical
integrity, with lifelong effects. The risks their activities pose to
congregations and to congregation’s leadership, ordained and lay, are serious.
In congregations where leaders fail to check the references and the background
of such persons, both the congregation as an institution and the leaders as
individuals can be held liable for negligent hiring. In congregations where
leaders turn a blind eye to inappropriate, much less predatory, conduct, the
institution as a whole and the governing board as individuals may be
liable both for negligent supervision and for failure to report.
In the past year criminal conviction checks (a.k.a. “criminal record
searches,” or “criminal background checks”) have become increasingly popular as
a way for congregations both to identify individuals who may not be suited to
work in a religious or caring community, and to limit the liability of the
congregation and its leaders. Of course, criminal conviction checks are limited
in their scope and must never be seen as anything more than a long-shot
rule-out. The guidelines we recommend to congregations and other UUA
organizations will require empathy, sensitivity, education, and above all
persistence on the part of those charged with recommending the call, hire, or
recruitment of a minister, professional leader, or staff member to positions of
power and sensitivity in a congregation, a District, or in the UUA.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Friday, April 22, 2011.
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