Anglican Church Informs Parishioners of Sex Offender Attendee After Three Years

By Kathryn Post
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Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. (Image courtesy of Google Maps)

Church of the Resurrection, an Anglican church that serves as a diocesan seat in Wheaton, Illinois, whose leaders have faced criticism for how they handled sexual abuse allegations, informed congregants Friday that a registered sex offender has been attending the church since 2019.

“We take with utmost seriousness the presence of someone who has committed a significant crime and will continue to show extreme care in the future,” Church of the Resurrection cathedral dean Steve Williamson wrote in an email to church members.

The church is the headquarters of the Upper Midwest Diocese, a subgroup of the Anglican Church in North America that since 2019 has been roiled by sexual abuse allegations against a former lay minister in the diocese.

John Hays, a former pastor at a different church, was charged in 2014 with aggravated criminal sexual abuse of his child neighbor between 2003 and 2009. Records from the Illinois State Police indicate that the victim was 7 when the abuse took place.

On Thursday, ACNAtoo, an anti-abuse advocacy group, published a post on its website alerting readers of Hays’ crimes and presence at Church of the Resurrection. A day later, Williamson’s email informed congregants that it “is not our policy to publicly inform the congregation of a parishioner’s past criminal actions” but that church leaders wished to address concerns that had been raised about Hays, whom Williamson referred to by first name only in the email.

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Staff and leaders at Church of the Resurrection did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the email, which was shared with media, pastors were aware of Hays’ criminal past. The email assures readers that church leaders care for abuse survivors but are also “committed to being a place where sinners, even notorious sinners, can belong and encounter Jesus (with appropriate safeguards in place).”

According to the email, Hays was permitted to attend the church but was required to be accompanied by a chaperone selected by church leaders. He was allowed only in the church sanctuary and narthex and was specifically banned from church events “geared toward children.” Williamson’s email also asserts that “all pastors and children and youth staff” were made “aware of his identity, crimes, and the requirements of this policy.”

In a 2020 post on this topic on her blog, Diane Langberg, a clinical psychologist and abuse expert with long experience in Christian communities, said, “When churches have asked what I recommend when dealing with someone whose has sexually abused children my response is — do not allow him/her to attend church.” Instead, Langberg suggests an alternate model where a small group of adults gather with the abuser to pray and worship outside of church settings.

Kelley Goewey, a former member of Church of the Resurrection who attended from June 2019 until July 2021, worked regularly in children’s ministry in both paid and volunteer positions. She said she was never informed of Hays’ criminal history or the church’s procedures, and only learned of Hays’ crimes via ACNAtoo’s public post. She thinks congregants should have been alerted much sooner.

“Given the statistics available about the rates of recidivism for people who are pedophiles and who sexually assault children, it’s inadvisable to have them participate in a church service when children are present,” she said.

Goewey added that, without explaining his history, pairing Hays with a well-respected church member as a chaperone could come off as an endorsement of Hays, rather than a warning. She believes church leaders should have worked to find a middle ground that allowed Hays to receive spiritual care in a place where no children were present.

Abbi Nye, an ACNAtoo advocate, said the church’s announcement about Hays “lines up with their pattern of prioritizing the protection and comfort of abusers over victims,” Nye said.

“If Church of the Resurrection chooses to minister to convicted child sex offenders in spaces where children are, they have a moral obligation to inform parents that this is their policy,” ACNAtoo said in a statement to media.

Editorial Note: As Julie Roys has noted previously, she attended Church of the Resurrection and has a conflict of interest in reporting this story. However, this article was reported and edited without any involvement by Roys.

Kathryn Post is a writer living in Washington D.C. She is a graduate of Calvin College and an editorial assistant for Sojourners magazine. 

 

In a past podcast, clinical psychologist Dr. Diane Langberg addressed the issues raised in this post.

 

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7 thoughts on “Anglican Church Informs Parishioners of Sex Offender Attendee After Three Years”

  1. It’s not an Anglican church. It’s part of the the “Anglican Church in North America” which is not part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The ACNA split off from the Episcopal church over the ordination of gay people.

    1. Karen, unlike Calvary Chapel™, the worldwide Anglican Communion has no registered trademark on the word “Anglican”. Neither does the Church of England or the Anglican Church of Canada, or any other Anglican ecclesiastical body, least of all the ACNA. Also, no American Episcopalian I’ve ever met has self-described as “Anglican”, except maybe when pressed, though some might more readily identify as “Anglo-Catholic”, which is also not a trademarked term.

      So, like Baptist or Methodist or Lutheran or (especially) Presbyterian, the term “Anglican” can be freely used by whoever wants to use it, and questions of formal denominational affiliation aside, nobody gets to define anybody in or out, or tell anyone how they can or can’t use that term. Isn’t freedom of religion wonderful?

      All that aside, to the article’s actual point, it would be even more wonderful if the ACNA and several other denominations and Christian organizations recently in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons would figure out how important transparency and accountability are to Christian witness at an institutional level. Not to mention the importance of dealing competently with wolves in sheep’s clothing, a scourge from which no collection of human beings is immune.

  2. “When churches have asked what I recommend when dealing with someone whose has sexually abused children my response is — do not allow him/her to attend church.” Instead, Langberg suggests an alternate model where a small group of adults gather with the abuser to pray and worship outside of church settings” ok the church did not follow this specific recommendation, however they did put somethings in place to safe guard the sheep, they get no credit and actually is accused of looking out for the sexual offender in this case, this so uncalled for.

    1. I agree. When faced with a similar situation, the church where I pastor took similar precautions and did not announce the presence of the individual nor his sins to the congregation. I think the church did the right thing here and should be given credit for it.

      1. The thing that is tragic is that this pastor was convicted of sexually abused a young neighbor boy who was 7 years old for six years, btwn 2003 and 2009. That is a long, long time- making it a pattern and not a one time matter.

        Then he ended up being charged with abuse of another minor male, too.

        That a volunteer and paid childcare staff person never was alerted to this, is not consistent with church staff being made aware of this situation.

        Also the volunteer chaperone should walk the former pastor all the way to his vehicle.

        We need to do better.

        1. The expert says that in the interest of our children that we should not have offenders attend church. This is a situation close to me. I know someone who has done this and is now head deacon of a failing church. At this point I will defer to the expert. Better than letting our own children get $%^(@!

          I have a friend with a nephew who is a sex offender. He was not allowed to attend church without his uncle. One time he tried to show up while the uncle was on vacation. He was not allowed in. Then he just left mad, joined another church and started playing on the worship band likely without telling anyone of his status on the list. They obviously do not do background checks. Hence the very real danger. We really need to take this stuff more seriously. At most churches you really do not know whom you are dealing with. Especially until the first time they get caught. They do not show up on any kind of checking system.

  3. Why would pedophiles need children present in order to worship God ? If the offender is insulted by being asked to worship with adults exclusively, what does that say about the reality of his or her repentance?

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