Presiding Ministers’ Report III: Moving the Goalposts

“grievous malfeasance” & “corruption”

“The members of the Review Committee are fully committed to doing their work diligently and honestly. The Committee is determined to follow the record wherever it may lead and will not hesitate to clearly identify any sins, errors of omission, errors of commission, errors of wisdom, malfeasance, corruption or cover‐up that may be discovered in the course of its review.” CREC Review Committee

In the fall of 2015, the CREC Review Committee posted three different announcements:

Each announcement declared the Review Committee’s mission, but the second announcement, which they titled “CREC Review Committee Mission Statement,” used the most specific language:

With that in mind, the Review Committee is engaged in seeking answers to three basic sets of questions:

  1. In handling the cases under review, did the pastors or elders commit sins or grievous malfeasance against anyone involved of which they need to repent and have not yet repented? Moreover, the Committee seeks to discover if there was any corruption involved in the handling of these cases or any subsequent effort to cover up any sins, errors or corruption.
  1. In these cases, did either Session, acting on what they knew at the time, do anything they should not have done, or fail to do anything they should have done? This set of questions concerns the contemporaneous exercise of wisdom in handling the cases.
  1. An additional wisdom issue is also being considered by the Review Committee. This has to do with a retrospective consideration. With what is now known, are there matters that would have been handled differently by the leadership or that should be handled differently in the future? (CREC Review Committee Mission Statement, page 2, emphasis original)

Please notice that the first point of the mission statement named “grievous malfeasance” and “corruption” as among the sins “the Committee seeks to discover.” The Review Committee’s third announcement quoted this and reiterated their resolve to discover “malfeasance”:

As stated previously, the Committee has been “called upon to determine . . . whether there were errors, sins or any sort of malfeasance committed by either the Christ Church or Trinity Reformed Church leadership in their handling of the two cases.” (Announcement from the CREC Review Committee, points of ellipses original)

I call these facts to your attention because the Review Committee removed these two sins — “grievous malfeasance” & “corruption” — from the “Mission and Purpose” statement of the so-called Presiding Ministers’ Report on the Sitler and Wight Sex Abuse Cases (PMR):

With that in mind, the Committee sought answers to two basic sets of questions:

  1. In handling the cases under review, did the pastors or elders commit sins against anyone involved? If so, have they repented? Were there any pastoral mistakes made, any attempted cover-up, or any failure to cooperate properly with legal authorities? Did either session, acting on what they knew at the time, do anything they should not have done, or fail to do anything they should have done? Did they treat everyone involved according to biblical standards and with pastoral competence? Did they love and serve those in their respective flocks?
  1. With what is now known, are there matters that should have been handled differently by the leadership or that should be handled differently if similar cases arise in the future? Looking back on these cases, what can the sessions of the churches and the CREC as a whole learn from them going forward? How can our churches better minister to victims and prevent victimization? How can we improve our shepherding and counseling ministries? (PMR page 4, emphasis original)

The terms “grievous malfeasance” and “corruption” do not appear in the “Mission and Purpose.” To be sure, they do not appear anywhere in the report. The CREC Review Committee deleted them. However, neither the CREC Presiding Minister (Douglas Wilson) nor the CREC Presiding Minister Pro Tem (Jack Phelps) has said why the Review Committee struck these terms from the mission. No one else from the CREC, including the Presiding Ministers, has accounted for this change in the mission either. But as you can see, they did it. And their action has the net effect of moving the goalposts in the middle of the game, which is a red flag.

There could be a number of explanations for how the CREC Review Committee amended its mission. For example, it’s possible that Douglas Wilson changed the terms of his invitation to the Presiding Ministers and simultaneously put a gag order on them. We saw that he took control of responsibility for publishing the report, which contradicted the Review Committee’s original statement. It follows that if he could change that particular condition of the Review Committee’s mission, then he could change other conditions as well. I am not aware that the CREC Constitution prohibits this kind of monkey business.

However this change happened, it did not remove the existence of “grievous malfeasance” and “corruption.” Consider these two examples:

1. Failure to Notify
The PMR states:

In the Sitler case, it was a serious mistake for Christ Church leadership not to formally inform the congregation (or, more specifically, all parents of young children in the congregation) of his pattern of serial molestations immediately after it came to light. . . . The session first officially notified the congregation of Sitler’s molestations at the Head of Household meeting of November 2005, while Sitler was confined at Cottonwood, which was almost eight months after church leadership became aware of his abuse. . . Immediate official notice is necessary to allow parents to determine if their own children have been exposed to the predator and subjected to abuse, as well as for getting victims help as soon as possible. (PMR page 10)

The words “serious mistake” understate the problem. Douglas Wilson deliberately withheld vital information from Kirk parents (as well as his session1), for reasons the Review Committee failed to explain. Further, he allowed 7½ months to pass before he broached the subject. Those 7½ months closed the door for Kirk parents to determine if Mr. Sitler had touched their children, or as the PRM states,

“Immediate official notice is necessary to allow parents to determine if their own children have been exposed to the predator and subjected to abuse, as well as for getting victims help as soon as possible.” (ibid.)

Doug Wilson’s refusal to give “immediate official notice” led to the possibility of undiscovered victims, which is significantly worse than a “serious mistake.” This crosses the line into “grievous malfeasance” — gross wrongdoing — because pastoral responsibility obligates the shepherd to ensure the safety & wellbeing of each lamb in the flock. This is Christian Ministry 101. Moreover, failure to immediately warn the sheep that predation occurred betrayed kirker’s trust and reeks of contempt for those in his care: You don’t need to know.

2. Support for Steven Sitler’s Request to Live with His Son
On September 1, 2015, and August 17, 2016, serial pedophile Steven Sitler petitioned the Court for the right to live with his son, and according to the Christ Church Elder’s Meeting minutes, the Kirk elders supported this request. The Court granted Mr. Sitler’s wish and he now lives full time in the same home as the child for whom he entertains “deviant sexual fantasies.”2 The CREC Review Committee excluded this historical event from the pastoral section of the PMR — not because they did not know about it.3 They simply ignored it for reasons they did not say.

Words fail here: I cannot imagine a more incomprehensible example of grotesque pastoral malfeasance than this. The elders of Christ Church approve of forcing a 2½-year-old child to live in the same home as a dangerous sexual predator who is currently on life probation for molesting an unknown number of children. This predator had “contact resulting in actual sexual stimulation” with the child. Yet the Kirk elders approve. Let that sink in.

Now contemplate Douglas Wilson’s hypocrisy:

“Make no mistake — it is terrible when a child has to live within range of a sexual predator.” (Blog & Mablog, Sexual Justice, July 21, 2014)

“I believe there was at least one scenario where Steven could have been killed on the spot, and no injustice done.” (Blog & Mablog, The Only Kind of Gospel There Is, September 10, 2015)

“Steven’s behavior was with young children and was simply predatory.” (The American Conservative, Doug Wilson’s ‘Reluctant Response’; October 1, 2105)

“No conscientious pastor can be willingly complicit in a child having to spend one more minute under the control of his abuser. . .” (Blog & Mablog, 9 Theses on Pastoral Confidentiality and Child Abuse, October 25, 2016)

If these quotes mean anything, they mean that Douglas Wilson knows better than to support a serial pedophile who wants to live in the same home as a child he wants to molest. Given this, it’s possible the Presiding Ministers knew they could not plausibly justify the Kirk elders. This would account for their silence on that point. This could also explain why they secretly amended the terms of their mission by striking “grievous malfeasance” and “corruption.” Whatever the reason, the Presiding Ministers of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches inadvertently demonstrated exactly what the words “grievous malfeasance” and “corruption” mean. They embodied it.

One last thought for my friends in the Kirk: Your pastor cares no more for you than he does Steven Sitler’s son.

1 Douglas Wilson failed to notify his elders of the magnitude of Steven Sitler’s crimes. We’ll flesh out the details later, but don’t forget that Ed Iverson did not know about Sitler’s serial crimes, which is not a mitigating circumstance, contra the PMR (page 11).

2 The CREC Review Committee excluded this Special Progress Report from the “Sitler Case Annotated Timeline.” Steven Sitler’s probation officer wrote the report to Judge Stegner. It is dated December 17, 2015, and would have appeared on page 48 of the PMR.

3 The “Sitler Case Annotated Timeline” includes this in its narrative, without comment.