South side church leaders react to claims of failing to report a sexual abuse

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Southport Presbyterian Church

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 21, 2016) – Leaders of an Indianapolis church have responded to claims that they failed to report a sexual abuse.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests or SNAP, claims leaders of the Southport Presbyterian Church knew about an incident involving two of its members and did not take appropriate action.

Church leaders say they were not involved in the incident, other than trying to provide help and ensure the victim and families involved were supported.

The church says the incident occurred between two teenagers at a mutual friend’s house in a private gathering that included several youth. And the only connection to the church is that both individuals go there.

Church officials say they were informed of the incident several days afterward by an individual who heard about it from someone other than the victim.

Church officials say they talked to the individuals involved and offered support.

Church leaders say they decided the event should be reported and did so both to local police and to CPS. They say police and CPS had no concerns about the timeliness of their report.

“We have tried to treat this matter with appropriate confidentiality and not make this occurrence a broad public matter out of respect for the families involved. Sadly, an activist organization (SNAP) has contacted the media to try to push its otherwise well-meaning agenda. Our church is being unfairly maligned in the process,” said Robert E. Hock, senior pastor of Southport Presbyterian Church.

SNAP’s David Clohessy responded Friday with a statement of its own, blasting Hock and the church:

Indianapolis Presbyterian officials are “blaming the messenger” and being deceptive in an abuse case. We’re very sad that he and his staff are doing damage control instead of pastoral outreach.

Pastor Robert E. Hock of Southport Presbyterian Church is being deceptive and hurtful by describing child sexual abuse as being “between two teenagers.” That’s minimizing a horrific crime. That’s like calling a bank robbery a financial transaction between two adults.

If a 19-year-old forces himself on a 13-year-old, is Pastor Hock implying that this is OK? He and his lawyers and his public relations team knows that the power difference, not the age range, is what matters in sexual violence.

If a 42-year-old rapes a 22-year-old, will Pastor Hock call it “between two adults?” If a CEO sexually harasses a custodian, would Pastor Hock call this “between two adults?”

The word “between” implies consent. But there can be no consent when an older, more sophisticated person sexually exploits a younger, more vulnerable person.

And the word “teenagers” implies equality. In this case, there is not equality. The accused predator has far more power than his victim.

Pastor Hock says no abuse happened on church property, or at a church-sponsored event and no church employee was the offender. That’s his lawyer and his PR person talking.

No one said or implied otherwise. And no one, except the church’s defense lawyer and the church public relations staff, should care about any of this.

What matters is that church officials knew of or had strong suspicions about child sex crimes, yet chose to try to handle it quietly and internally, only later informing law enforcement.

And while Pastor Hock distances himself from the alleged abuser, he hides the fact that the accused was a counselor for several years, including last year, at a church-sponsored program.

Pastor Hock talks of forgiveness. When minister do this early in a child sex case, it’s usually an effort to shift the focus and imply that everything’s resolved. That’s disingenuous and self-serving. The time for forgiveness is later. Now is the time for prevention and disclosure.

The staff of Southport Presbyterian has a choice now. They can act like cold-hearted CEOs and “lawyer up” and duck and dodge. Or they can act like compassionate shepherds and admit their wrongdoing and do much more to heal the wounded, protect the vulnerable and expose the truth.

We hope they choose the latter course. But based on Pastor Hock’s news release, we aren’t optimistic.

Finally, it’s unbecoming of a professed shepherd to “shoot the messenger” and blame the news media and a support group for peeling back the secrecy with which he and his staff have handled a crime. Had Southport officials been honest from the outset, the news media and SNAP would likely have never felt compelled to step in and shed light on this troubling situation.

No matter church officials do or don’t do, we urge every single person who saw, suspected or suffered child sex crimes and cover ups in churches or institutions to protect kids by calling police, get help by calling therapists, expose wrongdoers by calling law enforcement, get justice by calling attorneys, and be comforted by calling support groups like ours. This is how kids will be safer, adults will recover, criminals will be prosecuted, cover ups will be deterred and the truth will surface.