A royal commission has heard that local churches affiliated to a Pentecostal movement find it hard to reach the elders on child abuse cases.
The Pentecostal movement needs a hotline for senior pastors to report child sex abuse allegations to the executive, a retired church leader says.
Chris Peterson was senior pastor of a small church in Queensland when Jonathan Baldwin, a former youth pastor, was jailed for eight years for indecent treatment of a child under 16 and one count of sodomy.
At a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse hearing on Thursday, Pastor Peterson said he accepted some responsibility for not passing the information up the line to the state and national executive of the Australian Christian Churches (ACC).
ACC is the umbrella body to which more than 1000 Pentecostal churches are affiliated.
It credentials pastors but the local churches are autonomous and expected to deal with abuse cases themselves. They can arrange insurance cover through the business arm of the ACC.
When Pastor Peterson took over at the church in 2006, Baldwin had moved on.
At the end of detailed questioning on child protection policies and reporting procedures, Pastor Peterson said the national, state and district organisation of ACC was unwieldy and “somewhat difficult to work with”.
He suggested ACC “create some sort of hotline or facility where every senior pastor had an immediate connection on matters of such importance”.
The commission has heard that Pastor Peterson kept the matter local and the child protection policy was written by a trainee teacher and a mother, neither of whom had training.
The policy was based on a biblical admonishment “to avoid the appearance of evil” and to leave no door open for people to falsely accuse Pentecostalists because “Satan is the enemy of the brethren”.
There was no written policy on reporting to police.
Gary Swenson, director of ministries for ACC in Queensland and the Northern Territory, said it was only in December 2007 that the state executive heard of the Baldwin charges.
He was charged in May.
Church insurers dealt exclusively with the family during mediation in civil proceedings in 2011 and 2012.
The insurance claims officer suggested to Mr Swenson that the ACC explain to the boy’s father the policies for dealing with such matters.
Mr Swenson said the family’s pain and grief was evident and they felt abandoned by the movement.
He said he came away from a six-hour meeting with the parents with the opinion that “Pastor (Ian) Lehmann had been negligent”.
Pastor Lehmann was in charge at the church when Baldwin, his son-in-law, was youth pastor.
On Wednesday, Pastor Lehmann said he didn’t think there was anything deviant about Baldwin’s relationship with a 13-year old-boy.
Mr Swenson was asked about the ACC response to a “heartbreaking” plea for help the boy’s father had emailed to a large number of the Christian community in October 2011.
The state executive clerk replied asking if it was “spam”.
Mr Swenson said “maybe it could have seemed a little callous” but there was a question about the email’s legitimacy because it went to so many people.