Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Carlsbad church emerges stronger from media tempest

As a journalist, I don’t care much for today’s column. Too many unanswered questions.

But as an admirer of the small Carlsbad church that shares its campus — and sanctuary — with a reform Jewish synagogue, I can’t resist this anniversary.

Exactly four years ago, Pilgrim United Church of Christ was media manna from heaven: A liberal congregation proud of its openness — one of its signs reads “All Are Welcome” — was in turmoil over a convicted child molester asking to attend services. CNN, NPR and The New York Times flocked to the story this newspaper covered like a blanket.

The ensuing debate threatened to tear Pilgrim apart. Many of the church’s 300 members revealed they had been molested as children.

Last week, the Rev. Madison Shockley recalled the contradictory threats: “If you shut the door,” a forgiving faction said, “I’m out of here.” Others said, “If you let him in, I’m out of here.”

Ultimately, Pilgrim found its footing, crafting a “safe-church” policy that, among other measures, offers services to sex offenders who sign off on a “covenant of limited access,” meaning human monitoring and no contact with children.

In a May 2007 meeting, three-quarters of the congregation voted in favor of the policy. About 10 families left the church. (Some of them have since returned.)

Shockley agreed to an interview last week on the condition that I would not identify the sex offender (even though his name was reported in 2007). “It’s not about him,” the pastor insisted. “It’s about us.”

Still, I listened for clues about “him.”

As part of the safe-church policy, Shockley is required to announce annually how many limited-access covenants are being enforced.

At the last yearly meeting, he said there were none, leading one to infer that the marked man is no longer attending Pilgrim. But Shockley cautioned against drawing any conclusions from that snapshot in time. “You never know who’s walking through the door.”

So true.

It’s one thing to protect kids from registered sex offenders. It’s another to grasp that an estimated 90 percent of molesters are never convicted. The more troubling danger is in the praying predators lurking in the pews and behind the pulpit.

As we’ve learned, there’s no better cover than piety. More than nine in 10 sexual abusers identify themselves as religious.

Four years ago, the media quickly lost interest once Pilgrim charted its course. As it turns out, Pilgrim did not become a mecca for molesters, as some feared. But its door remains open to God knows whom.

I can’t tell you what happened to the moral leper the church carefully embraced.

What I do know is that an endearingly liberal church endured a really dark night — and saved its soul.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Leave A Comment

Thank You to Our Generous Donors!