A big issue in recent years within The Episcopal Church has been how to protect children and other vulnerable populations from sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse. To that end, the church has established policies and training designed to reduce the possibility of abuse. Unfortunately, St. Dysfunction aka Grace Episcopal Church is woefully non-compliant with these requirements.
To be fair, some provisions have been implemented. For example, there is a requirement that two unrelated adults be present at all youth activities. This generally is followed for church functions. However, it was not enforced at all when the church rented use of the building in summer to Steve and Kate’s Camp, a for-profit that used the premises for several seasons (and which Bob Malm approved in advance of the vestry even knowing about the issue). While there is no evidence to suggest that sexual misconduct occurred, there was at least one harrowing incident, in which a little boy became trapped in the men’s bathroom when the motion-sensing lights turned off while he was inside. Even worse, the boy’s terrified screams met with no response for approximately 20 minutes, and when he was reunited with nearby camp counselors, one said with a shrug, “I wondered where he was.” That is pretty damned appalling and dysfunctional, and you can quote me on that.
Additionally, most of the building is compliant with the requirement that interior doors have windows in them, although some have been covered over in recent years.
On other fronts, things are not so good. For instance, one recommendation is that unused portions of the building be secured so as to deny a potential abuser private areas in which to be alone with a child. Despite this, much of the interior of the church is unlocked at any given moment, including remote areas on the third floor, many closets, the vesting rooms, and all meeting rooms. Even then, almost of the interior is keyed alike, and with almost every parishioner having a copy, the place might as well be standing wide open.
Even worse, the building de facto DOES stand wide open 24/7. The lower entrance to the building is on an electronic access system, and codes are in wide circulation, given to church members by office staff upon request. In fact, if you know where to look, the codes are available even without asking. That means that the entire building becomes a private area when the sexton leaves at 9 PM on weeknights that can be used to be alone with children or other vulnerable populations. And given that the sexton comes and goes in the evening, sometimes leaving groups alone in the building (there has been more than one elevator entrapment during which no church staff were to be found on site), even times before 9 PM are risky.
To make matters still worse, there are ten known registered sex offenders in the immediate area, and 41 if you consider adjacent zip codes. And, of course, that’s just a subset of the larger population of sex offenders, as the registry only reflects those who have been caught. Plus, there is a parishioner who is known to have boundary issues with children; that individual likely has 24/7 access to the building, as his family members certainly do. Bad enough, but compounding the fact is that the parish has no written guidelines on how to care for this parishioner while still ensuring child safety.
Nor are the only risks ones involving sexual misconduct. For example, for many years the sexton’s closet behind the office has been routinely left unlocked, which could allow a child to access and possibly ingest cleaning chemicals. While the latter are stored high up, children can be remarkably adept at getting into things, and it is telling that no one bothers to proactively address these sorts of risks.