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Conference must pay in sex-abuse case

 
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6:00 P.M. EDT Oct. 11, 2011

The Minnesota Annual (regional) Conference must pay $164,000 in compensatory damages to a woman who was sexually abused by a former United Methodist pastor.

“I want to emphasize that we take this very seriously. We are committed to doing everything we can to create a safe environment for all, especially vulnerable people.”
— Minnesota Area Bishop Sally Dyck.

A Winona, Minn., jury on Oct. 6 awarded the woman more than $1.4 million in a civil suit against the conference and Donald Dean Budd, who already had pleaded guilty to the abuse.

The Minnesota woman accused Budd of pursuing an inappropriate sexual relationship after she went to him for counseling in 2003. The woman was in her 30s at the time. Budd, now 67, pleaded guilty to the two counts of felony sexual abuse and surrendered his credentials in 2009.

Budd must pay $1 million in punitive damages and $246,000 of the $410,000 in compensatory damages.

The woman reported the relationship with Budd to Minnesota Area Bishop Sally Dyck in 2006.

Dyck said that she followed the due process required by The United Methodist Church in addressing the woman’s allegations. When she received the woman’s complaint, Dyck said she immediately began the 120-day church complaint process. The bishop said she also restricted Budd, then pastor of McKinley United Methodist Church in Winona, from counseling females or being alone with females as the church process continued. When criminal charges were filed, she said, Budd was removed from McKinley.

“I want to emphasize that we take this very seriously,” the bishop said in a statement after the verdict. “We are committed to doing everything we can to create a safe environment for all, especially vulnerable people. Our theology, our laws and our practices are clear: Our pastors and laypeople are expected to meet a high moral standard in their professional and personal lives.”

The conference’s insurance will cover its share of the compensatory damages, Dyck said in her statement. The conference is considering whether to appeal.

Circumstances of the case

The jury found that the conference did not take “reasonable action” when the bishop learned Budd had engaged in a sexual relationship with the parishioner.

The woman’s attorney, Robert Hajek, called the jury’s verdict “very reasonable and supported entirely by the evidence at the trial.” Phone calls to Budd and his attorney, Timothy Waldeck, were not returned.

The verdict was “very reasonable and supported entirely by the evidence at the trial.”
— Robert Hajek, attorney for abuse victim.

Hajek said his client had gone to counseling after the death of her grandfather. The sessions later became personal and she developed feelings for Budd, Hajek said. Budd did not end the counseling and pursued an inappropriate sexual relationship, the attorney said.

Dyck said she remained in frequent contact with the parishioner during the church’s complaint process. At one point, the parishioner asked to meet Budd alone to confront him, Dyck said. The bishop said she advised against such a meeting.

The parishioner insisted, Dyck said. The bishop drew up an agreement for Budd and the parishioner as a framework for the meeting. She also urged that another individual be present when the meeting took place.

That agreement required that the content of the conversation in that meeting remain confidential. That was necessary to persuade Budd to participate in the meeting, said the Rev. Victoria Rebeck, the conference’s spokeswoman.

Hajek argued that the conference should have suspended Budd rather than let him continue to preach while the church pursued its investigation into the woman’s accusations. The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, allows restriction or suspension during an investigation into clergy misconduct.

Hajek also took issue with the confidentiality agreement.

“If (Budd) had admitted to you that he sexually abused you in this conversation, and you can’t use that, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said. Rebeck and Dyck maintain that the agreement did not limit the parishioner’s potential legal options nor did it end the church’s complaint process.

Rebeck said the church and police would have been able to obtain information in ways other than the meeting. “And they clearly did,” she said.

The parishioner declined to sign the agreement, and the meeting never took place. Instead, she withdrew from the church complaint process and went to the Winona Police Department. In 2009, Budd was convicted of two counts of felony sexual abuse and sentenced to 15 years of probation. He also had to register as a sex offender. The parishioner filed the civil suit after the conviction.

Need to be heard

“Victims are much less likely to sue a church when they feel their needs are being met through the church process.”
— The Rev. Darryl Stephens.

Sexual abuse is a problem that threatens every religious group in the United States, according to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“Victims are much less likely to sue a church when they feel their needs are being met through the church process,” said the Rev. Darryl Stephens, a staff executive who oversees sexual ethics with the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women. “Often when a victim resorts to a lawsuit, it’s because the church was not responsive to their needs or the lawsuit is a way to get the church’s attention.”

Stephens added, however, that he was not implying that was the situation in Minnesota.

The best practice is for conferences to “be proactive in meeting the needs of alleged victims,” he said. He also suggests the conference provide an advocate for the accuser to help walk the person through the church’s process.

It’s not always clear when a clergy sexual misconduct case is a criminal matter.

In many states, Stephens said, cases that involve a sexual relationship between clergy and an adult parishioner don’t violate the law. And, in most states, conferences can’t go to the police on behalf of an adult parishioner. It is up to that parishioner to pursue charges.

Also complicating matters is that criminal investigations can take years while the denomination’s Book of Discipline allows the suspension of clergy for a maximum of 120 days as part of an investigation into misconduct.

Conferences should consult with their attorney about any accusation of misconduct, Stephens said.

The United Methodist Church has no central repository for reporting or tracking complaints of clergy sexual misconduct. Stephens estimates that The United Methodist Church averages 140 to 500 cases of clergy sexual misconduct annually in the United States alone.

“Our goal in this situation has been to act responsibly,” Bishop Dyck of Minnesota said in a statement. “We continue to do background checks before we credential a person to licensed or ordained ministry. We require our clergy to take boundary training. Our policy is very clear regarding appropriate relationship boundaries between parishioners and clergy.”

She asks all United Methodists to “hold the parishioner and all involved in your prayers.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Showing 4 comments

  • Victoria Rebeck 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    This is a difficult time. The good news is that we are all more aware that abuse can happen and can take action to prevent it, as Minnesota Conference does to a significant extent--requiring clergy to take training every five years, undergo psychological screenings, submit to background checks, teaching safe-sanctuary practices, continues to review its policies, works to eliminate clergy isolation, and more. The unfortunate news is that the failure of other organizations to act responsibly has tainted not only all church leaders but all churches and church members, even those have worked hard for justice for a victim. The important thing is for all Christians to take this very seriously and do everything they can to stop abuse from happening to anyone else.
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  • SurvivorGirl 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Clergy sexual abuse (CSA) is in every denomination and religion world-wide; the numbers are staggering.  Although the UMC states that there are 140 to 500 cases annually just within the UMC in the U.S., there are many more cases that go unreported.  Victims are afraid to come forward.  Anyone who calls on a pastor for counseling is vulnerable, and it would be wise for the church to define vulnerability more broadly than it does currently.  According Diana Garland, Dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University, 1 in 33 adult women who regularly attend church are victims of CSA.  (www.baylor.edu/clergysexualmis.... While it's all well and good that the UMC and other denominations have  mandatory sexual ethics training and are taught about CSA, the problem continues.  I am a victim of CSA, and I can tell you that the only way to stop it is to educate congregations.  Awareness is key. Tell the people in the pews what to look for.  Parishioners should be on the look out for one another, and pastors and congregations must hold each other accountable.  Make it the highest priority to put Safe Sanctuary policies in place in every church and announce it from the pulpits. Everyone who attends church should be made aware that CSA exists, should know how to spot it and encouraged to report it.  Create a central repository for tracking CSA/CSM complaints; hide nothing.  Do these things and watch the complaint numbers drop.

    The case mentioned in this article should be a huge call to action for the church.  ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
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  • Creed Pogue 2 comments collapsed Collapse Expand
    Where does the figure of 140 to 500 cases of clergy sexual misconduct come from?  Even 140 would mean that about about 1 out of 200 active clergy are involved?  Or, are we using a very broad definition? 

    The Paup case raised the concern of vague charges being used to attack a pastor for unChristian reasons.

    It should be a concern to everyone that Bishop Dyck says that she did everything she could but the jury came to a different conclusion.  Obviously, we need to retain the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty but we should not make the same mistakes that the Catholics have.
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  • UMNS editor 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Darryl Stephens got those figures from Sally B. Dolch, a researcher at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. She based her research on interviews with conference sexual ethics response team leaders. In The United Methodist Church, sexual misconduct can include: child abuse, adult sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual assault, sexualized verbal comments or visuals, unwelcome touching and advances, use of sexualized materials including pornography, stalking, sexual abuse of youth or those without capacity to consent or misuse of the pastoral or ministerial position using sexualized conduct to take advantage of the vulnerability of another. Thank you for your questions.
    show more show less

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