We had a young man in our church some years ago in this situation. He had a history in another state which none of us – save our pastor and his sister – were fully apprised of. All we knew about “Paul” was that he was very smart, had studied literature years ago, but his education was derailed and he had fallen on many hard times, had been in jail, and wasn’t having an easy time getting back on his feet.
In time, we saw that he was determined to stay on the straight and narrow. It became clear, (well, it’s clear in hindsight, with the knowledge I have now) that he had definite pedophiliac tendencies and couldn’t stand to be in the presence of the little kids, especially the little girls. When they were around, he’d promptly excuse himself to another place. (It was a very small church, only fifty or so adults and maybe a dozen kids.) If we were in the foyer talking, and a child approached, he’d quickly head back into the sanctuary. He never went into the fellowship hall, where the children had Sunday School classes and tended to “hang out” after services while the adults visited with one another in the foyer or sanctuary.
Before anyone knew about his molestation history, we were aware that he had “problems,” though I think everyone thought he just had substance abuse issue. In any case, everyone became very understanding that he would sometimes suddenly leave a conversation or decide to go sit down alone to get himself together, especially if the little kids came buzzing around.
Unfortunately, he was “outed” as a child molestor thanks to Megan’s Law. Police officers went around his neighborhood with flyers giving all of his personal information (including his home phone number, which resulted in a spate of late night hang-up calls and anonymous threats) and basically embarrassed him into hiding. (The fact that it was sweeps month and one of the local tv stations decided to make him the centerpiece of a ratings-grabber story about Megan’s Law reporting didn’t help at all.) He quit coming to church, afraid that the parents there would reject him, even though everyone (and I mean every single person) in the congregation knew that he had done nothing improper and was, in fact, working hard to battle his demons and turn his life around. We also felt at the time that we were small enough that it wouldn’t be too difficult to help “police” the situation, and as new parents came into the congregation with their kids, we could explain things to them as necessary.
We drafted a letter which was signed by all of the parents in the church, our congregational leadership and whoever else wanted to sign, (I think everyone did) that said that we supported him in his efforts at rehabilitation and change, that we had seen the evidence that he did not want to return to his former ways, and we knew how hard he was working to find ways to be a part of society again. We made it clear that we would welcome him (and his sister, who had also stopped attending services out of embarrassment) back at any time, and we would continue to support him and help him in any way that we, as his Christian family, could.
But he was shamed, and he never came back, which really breaks my heart. Many of us went to visit on occasion, and he would ask that we didn’t, because it was too hard for him, he felt too guilty that he hadn’t told us about his past himself. He just didn’t know how to cope, even though we all extended our forgiveness and our help. Our pastor still goes to visit with him on occasion – he is monitored by his sister and their very elderly mother, and hasn’t offended again, but he drinks a lot, and has lost any hope he may have ever had. The only reason that he hasn’t committed suicide, he says, is because his disability money (it has determined that he is psychologically incapable of working) is needed to help pay the household expenses, and without it, his mother and sister would have to move from the house that they have lived in for nearly 40 years, and he can’t do that to them.
It has been about three years since Paul left our congregation, and it still makes me very upset and teary to think about how we might’ve done things differently to create a better outcome for him.
MsWhatsit, I heartily encourage - especially given the conditions that this person would accept - that you do not turn this person away from your church, an institution which is founded upon the very principle of accepting the broken, the sick, the damaged and sinful and helping them to right their ways. Help him as best you (group you) can, and try to keep him from ending up like Paul, please.