The Unitarian Universalist Church has created an online course with the New England Adolescent Research Institute to help churches set guidelines for dealing with a member accused of a sex crime or a convicted sex offender who wants to join their congregation, reports the Associated Press. “Every place of worship needs a safe-congregation policy,” Rev. Debra Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing. “If not, you have an offender who shows up, the congregation is alarmed and nobody knows what to do,” she said. “Then there’s a split in the congregation where you have people saying ‘Jesus called us to welcome everyone,’ and others saying ‘if a pedophile comes in, I’m quitting.'”
Haffner, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Westport, Conn., who helped design the course called “Balancing Acts,” said she works with at least two congregations a month grappling with whether to accept a sex offender. One of the most publicized cases she was involved in was in Carlsbad, Calif., where members of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ voted in May to set guidelines for dealing with registered sex offenders after a convicted child molester wanted to join the congregation.