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AME bishops review abuse policy

By SHARON TUBBS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 27, 2002

TAMPA -- In the wake of the sex abuse problem in churches nationwide, bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church are examining their own policy on the issue during a weeklong convention in Tampa.

"It signals to us the need to carefully review the administrative processes we employ in handling such issues," read a statement issued Wednesday as bishops from AME districts around the world gathered at the Marriott Waterside Hotel. "We have all similarly faced difficult, embarrassing and very sensitive failures on the part of leaders."

Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr., the Tampa native who began a yearlong post as head of the 2.5-million-member church this week, said his church was evaluating its policy even before scandal in the Roman Catholic Church became national news this year. But the upheaval in that church and in other denominations has heightened awareness of the issue.

The AME church has not been immune to the problem, he said, though relatively few ministers have engaged in misconduct. But even a small number of cases can undermine the church's credibility, he said.

"A little leaven leavens the whole lump," he said, quoting from the Book of Galatians.

Currently, the AME church's policy deems pedophilia, sexual harassment and sexual crimes, such as rape, unacceptable for church leaders and says they can be grounds for dismissal, according to Richardson. The policy requires that misconduct allegations be reported to a bishop or presiding elder. A committee investigates and determines whether a minister is at fault and should be dismissed or suspended.

Richardson said he was unsure whether the current policy mandates that police be contacted in sex abuse allegations.

AME bishops will evaluate the policy and likely strengthen its wording, Richardson said. Input from sex abuse victims may be part of the process, he said.

Church leaders will discuss ideas and amendments over the next year and finalize changes before the next AME general conference which, will take place in Indianapolis in 2004. About 1,800 delegates from around the world will vote on it, Richardson said.

AME leaders are also examining other social, economic and political issues that affect church members. They include: encouraging church members in Florida to vote; fair immigration practices regarding Haitians; the high rate of AIDS and HIV among African-Americans; the disproportionate number of blacks in jail; and maintaining citizens' rights during the government's war on terrorism.

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