“Everyone is to know: we will not tolerate this!”

The New Apostolic Church strongly condemns violence and sexual assault. A clear signal is now coming from South Africa. Yesterday the District Apostle Meeting Africa dealt with this issue.

The national church leaders of the African District Churches meet regularly. A major topic yesterday was the new policy against sexual abuse in the New Apostolic Church Southern Africa.

A signal to society and members of the Church

Why a new policy? Because it is necessary. The policy of “what you don’t talk about doesn’t exist” is no longer tolerable. Both the number of cases reported by South African crime statistics as well as the severity are alarming.

The issue needs to be accepted by society as a whole. “We do not only have to do something—the people must also know that we are doing something about it!” District Apostle John L. Kriel from Cape Town said.

Chief Apostle Schneider even went a step further: “The people, our congregations, and all our members are to hear that the New Apostolic Church does not tolerate sexual abuse!”

Against any form of sexual misconduct

The policy sets a clear road map for dealing with “any form of sexual misconduct” by ministers or functionaries. The document defines responsibilities, describes preventive measures, installs procedures for suspected cases, and outlines pastoral care for those affected. The policy is comprised of 18 sections and will come into effect on 1 May 2020. It will be translated into all official languages in South Africa.

The policy deliberately refers to “misconduct” and not just to “assault” or “abuse” because the measures are not only directed against criminal acts, but also against the non-punishable violation of another person’s personal boundary. This includes gestures or comments, but above all the violation of the principle of pastoral care—for example, when those in need of love and care are exploited by those they go to for help.

The Church in Southern Africa is working closely with relevant professionals and organisations. It is up to the victims alone to decide whether legal proceedings should be initiated. Cases of sexual misconduct among minors are always reported to the police in accordance with South African law.

Children and youth deserve special protection

Other District Churches have a similar approach. For example, the New Apostolic Church Southern Germany refers to its policy of sensitising leaders at all levels as “Konzeption Achtsamkeit” (mindfulness concept). Preventive measures include a written voluntary agreement as well as an extended certificate of good conduct. This applies to all ministers, as well as teachers and other persons who deal with children and young people.

An external lawyer searches for possible entries in criminal records on the basis of the Child and Youth Welfare Act. If there is an entry due to sexual assault, he informs the District Apostle only. He in turn will ensure that the person concerned no longer performs any task within the Church that brings him or her in contact with children or young people.

District Apostle Michael Ehrich from Southern Germany had presented this at the International District Apostle Meeting in Goslar (Germany) in June. He had given an overview of the individual elements of the concept by recounting the experiences to date. He also emphasised at the time that this was about an inner attitude, a stance one needs to take, in order to create awareness for a mindful attitude towards children and young people.

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Peter Johanning, Andreas Rother