Adventist Church in Australia Responds to Sex-Abuse News Report

On October 31, The Australian reported that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia admitted failures in a sex-abuse case involving teacher and soccer coach Daniel Kyei at Brisbane Adventist College. The article, "Seventh-day Adventists admit they failed teen victim," is now behind a paywall, but a cached version of the story can be viewed here.

The Australian also raised questions of whether Australian Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists president Jorge L. Muñoz misled Non-State Schools Accreditation Board officials, suggesting the issue was resolved when it was not.

On November 3, after Spectrum picked up the The Australian's story in our news headlines bulletin, the Adventist Church in Australia published a response in Record, the union's official news magazine. The response stated, "While the newspaper article omits critical facts, we have to ‘own’ what we have not done properly. This is a time to learn and to improve."

The Adventist Church in Australia's response to The Australian's report follows here in its entirety:

Wahroonga, New South Wales

The Australian ran a piece this weekend on a case of abuse at Brisbane Adventist College. We write to respectfully note that the article omits essential information.

Specifically, the article omits the facts that the teacher in question was suspended immediately by the school when the complaint was made, that an independent investigation was launched, that the teacher was terminated when the complaint was verified, that the case was reported to the police immediately and to the state teacher certification body in a timely manner. Thus, while not everything was handled as well as it should have been, these critical steps were followed. Readers have a reasonable expectation to know these essential facts when the case is reported.

The article also fails to include information that puts the Church’s response in context. For example, the reporter was told that the Church apologised to the family orally and in writing, and is in the process of providing a compensation package. He made no mention of these facts.

The article also fails to make clear that Pastor Jorge Munoz was not president of the Church in South Queensland when the abuse was reported to the principal, and only became president eight months after these events.

The substantial deficiencies in the reporting do not mean that all aspects of the case were handled well by the Church. While some things were done appropriately (the teacher was suspended immediately, the appropriate authorities were informed, independent investigation was performed, the teacher was promptly fired), we are painfully aware that the Church mishandled critical aspects of the case—particularly in the way we communicated with the victim and the family. In an effort to ensure we do better prospectively, the Church commissioned an independent review. After receiving the independent reviewer’s report, a senior national leader of the Church, Pastor Ken Vogel, travelled to meet the family and give them an unreserved oral apology and to personally deliver a written apology. The Church deeply regrets the insufficiency of our response and the impact that has had. The Church is in the process of putting together a package of redress to the victim and her family, consistent with the guidance and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. And, maybe most importantly, the Church is committed to preventing abuse prospectively and to improving the handling of cases should they occur. Specifically, the Church is currently designing extensive changes to its systems and processes, to achieve greater expertise, independence, oversight and accountability.

“While the newspaper article omits critical facts, we have to ‘own’ what we have not done properly,” says Pastor Munoz, president of the Adventist Church in Australia. “This is a time to learn and to improve. I encourage church members to keep praying at this time, and for God to give us a boldness like never before to make sure we have good processes and procedures in place, and that we follow and implement them well. For me, what is most important are the lessons we can learn in order to make our churches and institutions true safe places for everyone, and most particularly for our children. I challenge leaders and members alike to show courage and use this as an opportunity to challenge everyone in our community to do much, much better.”

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7172

Can’t believe all that the news shares since much they can fail to share. It’s a good practice to be skeptical of initial coverage. Given time there is often a clarification that changes the “color” of the story. In this day of instantaneous communication that skepticism is needed more than ever.

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i would say this response puts the adventist church in australia in a much more sympathetic position…if i think of other instances of sex abuse cases on church premises i’ve read about, this australian acknowledgement and redress appears to be among the most thorough, the most prompt and the most complete i’ve seen…in fact it’s so aggressive, i wonder if any attempt to rehabilitate and reclaim daniel have been made…

but regardless, i don’t see that there’s anything more the australian church can do, short of developing a way to screen potential employees in a way that guarantees that sex offenses will never happen, which i do think is impossible…i think most objective people understand that anyone anywhere can fall to sexual temptation at any time…it’s an unavoidable risk…

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Sounds like the Adventist Church in Australia has tried and continues trying to do the right things, even if imperfectly. Let’s give them our support in words and in prayer.

The contrast between this story and the one it responds to illustrates why we should always take what we read with a grain of salt (unless, of course, one suffers from hypertension).

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Prof
The Adventist church in Australia is experiencing hypertension awaiting its turn to be grilled by the Australian Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It is impossible to even begin to understand this story without first understanding this context.

@bill1
Bill, you are correct to ask questions of both Jack Ryan and Jorge Munoz!

@Ken
Valarie! It is correct that the indecent treatment of a minor happened in 2011 while Neil Watts was South Queensland Conference President. And yes, Brisbane Adventist College is in the territory of this Conference. And BAC is the school where the victim was a student, and at which the perpetrator was a teacher. However, since the police investigation was only reopened in January 2013, after a formal complaint to the police was lodged with them by the victim, against the perpetrator, Neil Watts is likely to have had minimal contact with the whole saga.

It may well be that your husband Ken Lawson was not afforded due process in his being taken out of his pastoral ministry. You and your husband are valuable members of a very large club! However, any mishandling of your husband’s case does not make the subsequent action of the Conference in finding a replacement for him illegal.

The church, when providing its view of the newspaper story, is clutching at straws to make themselves look better.

There is a defensive reference to all the actions that the church took that were not reported. The Australian was not suggesting that none of these actions had occurred. The teacher had resigned, and it could be reasonably inferred that there were certain processes that had been followed prior to the resignation. The paper reported on the independent review commissioned by the church. This shows a proactive stance by the church. On the whole the paper was quite balanced in its approach. The church simply wished it had mentioned more of the good stuff.

The church has failed to address why Munoz misled the accreditation board. He must have been in a position of authority and knowledge when he made that statement. The church also has not addressed the role of Jack Ryan, of the serious shortcomings that he exhibited when managing the situation, and given the shortcomings in this very sensitive area, why it is appropriate for him to be promoted to supervising all schools in Queensland.

There is also a mystery about why this is being handled out of Wahroonga, if this is a case about the church in Australia. The Australian church headquarters is in Melbourne, where Munoz is now based. The division is headquartered in Wahroonga. Has the division pulled rank, or has the union asked the division to use its PR resources to manage this sensitive issue.

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Neil Watts was the South Queensland Conference when this occurred - the same man who gave my husband, Pr. Ken Lawson, redundancy and then immediately called in another minister from another Conference to take his place, a totally illegal move.

Valerie Lawson

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Peter, I have seen a document that says the Royal Commission is slated to examine about 56 alleged child sexual abuse cases in SDA institutions in Australia. You are right. The SDA leaders have known for some time that the grilling is just around the corner and therefore it is understandable that they would try to quickly remedy this recent case. Yes, it seems, in the context of the current Royal Commission, that some church leaders are learning to treat people better in the face of imminent exposure of our past.
But some other church leaders would have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, if they had to appear before a Royal Commission and explain their shabby treatment of some church employees. It must be a comfort to the aggrieved that God knows all that has happened.

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Milton, as I’m sure you’re aware, the scope of the current Royal Commission relates to sexual abuse perpetrated by religious organisations (and by extension, their employees and representatives). Obviously some of the victims are employees, while many are not.

Apologies if I misunderstood your comment, but I sense perhaps a slight shift in focus to internal HR issues, with an emphasis on the treatment of employees by Administrators. If that was not your intention then ignore this comment. If it was, I heartily concur, having been a former church employee myself, and having had to negotiate some difficult health challenges in my earlier life while employed by the church under a somewhat unsympathetic administration - health issues that were directly related to my employment by the church in an overseas mission territory.

I was one of the lucky ones, because I was strong enough to recover and then leave church employment on my own terms. But I think the church in Australia is long overdue for a really bruising day in the court of industrial relations.

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Bob, my aside was really a response to Valerie Lawson’s comment. I know something of the treatment that her husband received. And I regularly hear of similar cases. In the past I have had opportunity to intervene to try to get a fairer outcome for the employee. But the success rate is not high.

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A church getting into the limelight for sexual abuse can do whatever they like - they will always get it wrong and will be target of mockery, disgust, disrespect. If they have something to say in their defense, they will be called defensive, if they keep silent, a cover-up is assumed (actually their could be other reasons). You can’t “win”.

From my experience the media isn’t interested in giving a perpetrator or their indirect accomplices the benefit of the doubt. They pretend to be on the victims side - while in fact they simply seek sensation (often wrongly called investigative journalism). Medial hype - even if true and without too many ommissions - is not as helpful, as often assumed. It “exposes” (in the most intimate sense of the word) and that can be quite abusive in itself.

The solution? Hard to say. The reprinted statement from the Australian’s probably is a valid attempt. In the long run, however, it seems to me that we need to be more pro-active: being known as an open and transparent community which does not tolerate violence - sexual or otherwise; offering help to those who are victimized - not only under public pressure; educating - here specifically about sexuality, power and control We stillhave a long way to go…

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I welcome the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
I feel where the Church also fails, is the communication among the divisions worldwide.
Back in 2001. our church also suffered sexual abuse to 3 teenage girls by our Pastor. Who was later found guilty by the Professional Standard Committee independent investigation, were both victims and perpetrator were interviewed.
When my wife and I went to The Greater Sydney Conference, to speak with the President at the time, Pastor Bill Townend, and ask where to now for this Pastor? He told us that his credentials have been revoked. And that IF ANY church were to take him, they would had to apply to view his credentials, and that The Greater Sydney Conference would send the findings of the investigation that took place in Sydney. And be told that (Pastor name witheld) was NOT suited to hold Pastoral Duties.

Only to find out a year later (2002) that he was leading out as a Pastor at one of our Adventist Church in New Jersey in the United States. And again committing the same crimes that had happened back in Australia.
Till this day, he’s still referred as Pastor, and I’m ashamed and disgusted to see him partaking in an evangelical crusade alongside Pastor John Carter. And I’m sure that Pastor Carter has no idea of this man’s past.

This happened almost 15yrs ago, the young girl that was most affected was only 13yrs old, she would now be 28yrs old, the other two about 30yrs old. This is the reason I welcome the Royal Comission, as I’m sure that the voice they never had back then, have now, a voice to be heard and have justice. Since the Church and Conference let them down.