Screening potential volunteers in the church doesn't mean a police records check on altar guild members, but that and more is required when it comes to youth leaders, says a new guidebook on the subject.
Youth leaders, clergy and choir leaders are considered the three riskiest positions in a typical Anglican church, according to Volunteer Canada's executive director, Paddy Bowen.
And although it may seem callous and unchristian to evaluate members of a parish in such a way, ignoring the potential risks would be more unchristian, said Betty Livingston, an active lay person and Anglican representative on the faith group of a provincial screening initiative.
"People in the parishes may feel something secular is intruding," Mrs. Livingston said. "But the reality is, it's our Christian responsibility" to prevent potential abusers from contact with vulnerable people in the church.
Brochures on the new screening program are being mailed now to Anglican churches in Ontario and are to be handed out to all parishioners. In the Diocese of Huron, clergy will be learning about volunteer screening at an April 6 meeting, after which the program will be introduced at a synod meeting.
"We all hear or read about predators but we never think they're likely to be on our doorstep," said Archdeacon Bill Graham, director of human resources for Huron. "This is a way to screen unfavourable elements out."
Rev. Dawn Davis, head of human resources for the Diocese of Toronto and an adviser on the project, said she hopes to get the manual into every single church in the diocese. Called Screening in Faith, it advises church leaders, step by step, who and how to screen.
The three Anglicans were among 16 from six dioceses at a workshop led by Ms. Bowen, who heads the driving organization behind the program. The initiative grew out of a Liberal Red Book promise in which it promised to make it easier for charities and non-profit groups to access police record information on pedophiles, Ms. Bowen said.
As more and more court cases and charges against clergy and others came to light in the 1990s, faith groups were more willing to talk about screening, Ms. Bowen said.
In 1997 Volunteer Canada approached the Anglican Church, which readily agreed to work with it, she said. Then the Ontario government jumped on board and offered resources and the Ontario Screening Initiative was born. The United, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Unitarian churches got involved in a faith consortium as did sports and recreation groups, rural groups and others.
Screening had to be tailored to the churches specifically, Ms. Bowen said. The daughter of an Anglican priest, (the late Desmond Bowen), Ms. Bowen is also a Sunday school superintendent in Ottawa.
She's heard the accusation a screening program is unchristian.
"There are people in the church who don't even like the term volunteer," Ms. Bowen said. "They think that's secular language and that they're secular norms and they think that's what's wrong with the church today: that we are imposing unchristian and secular views on a community of faith.
"We have to look at the evidence, that the church is not immune from, not above being affected by evil, if we want to put it in that kind of language. And that there is nothing wrong with borrowing from the secular world in terms of practices."
The church does it all the time, she said, pointing to budgeting, human resource management and the like. …