Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) apologized to 30 people who were physically or sexually abused between 1950 and 1990 in overseas mission situations, many of which were schools or boarding facilities. Most who were abused were minors whose parents served as mission workers.
"It is now painfully evident that some children of mission workers were abused in the mission fields. We have heard their voices and acknowledge their very real pain," said Carolyn McLarnan, GAMC vice chair. "I'm grieving, and on behalf of the Executive Committee, I offer our deepest apologies."
The council renewed its commitment to pray for and support those who were abused and to "work expeditiously to refine methods for preventing abuse in the future," including "a prompt study and response" to recommendations made by the GAMC's Independent Abuse Review Panel (IARP).
The three-member IARP was authorized in 2003 and began work the following year. Over nearly seven years, the panel met one long weekend each month to investigate 131 reports involving 81 possible victims and 47 alleged offenders at mission schools in Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Kenya, Zambia and Thailand.
In its comprehensive 546-page report, the IARP details findings from more than 200 witnesses and 200 documents relevant to the investigation.
The panel concluded that 30 incidents of abuse occurred in eight countries and names nine offenders. Seventeen other offenders are not named in the public report, most because they were minors at the time the abuse occurred. None of the offenders are currently active in the mission field. In addition, the panel concluded that abuse did not occur in nine of the reported incidents.
For the other reports, the panel either characterized them as concerns or supporting statements, or did not reach a conclusion.
The panel also addressed allegations of "failure to protect," finding that in one case there was a failure to protect, but exonerated individuals in 12 other instances.
"We are grateful to those who spoke out during this seven-year investigation covering a 40-year time period," said Linda Valentine, GAMC executive director. "Healing and reconciliation are possible only by hearing and understanding the truth – even when it's very painful. The healing process can be long and difficult, and that breaks our hearts."
Reports of abuse in Presbyterian mission fields were first made public in the late 1990s, when a retired Congo missionary who was headmaster of a boarding school there was charged with having committed at least 25 acts of abuse between the 1940s and 1970s. He died before he could be tried by church courts. The GAMC appointed a panel — the Independent Committee of Inquiry (ICI) — to conclude that investigation. As a result of the ICI report, the GAMC in 2003 implemented 30 reforms of abuse-related policies and procedures.
The GAMC also created the IARP to continue receiving and investigating abuse reports that surfaced during the previous investigation. Its stated purpose was to “pursue the truth, encourage healing, and promote justice on behalf of those making allegations and those accused” and to further the integrity of the mission and witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Its work was designed to be pastoral, not disciplinary.
Witnesses expressed hopes that the IARP would "tell the truth, confront offenders, exonerate those who did not abuse, promote justice and healing for survivors, push hard for additional policy and procedural reforms, and pay closer attention to the physical care and emotional welfare of the children of PC(USA) mission workers."
"Thousands of men and women served in far-off mission fields in the 40-year period from 1950 to 1990, and thousands of their children went with them," said Valentine. "Some, especially children, were abused and traumatized; the church did not protect these vulnerable people. The panel's revelations and recommendations provide important guidance for measures that may protect other vulnerable people. Many changes have been made in recent years in our practices of sending and supporting mission workers and their children as a result of the earlier ICI investigation, and growing awareness and knowledge of risks. We continue to seek ways to improve."
"On behalf of the church, I grieve with those who suffered and who continue to suffer because of this abuse," she continued. "I hope that they will receive some comfort in knowing that the church has already implemented many procedures to prevent such abuse in the future, and will continue to develop and refine procedures so that no child is placed at risk again."
Valentine expressed gratitude for the work of the members of the IARP.
The panel did not hear from every mission field and there was incomplete information in some cases, so the IARP will continue to receive information through the end of the year. A transition team will be formed to continue this work.
The IARP's complete 546-page report is available at the IARP's website.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comprises 2.2 million members in more than 10,000 congregations, answering Christ's call to mission and ministry throughout the United States and the world.