Abuse Review Panel Seeks an Additional Member

By Jerry Van Marter
Worldwide Faith News [Louisville KY]
November 8, 2006

Louisville - An additional member is being sought for a panel created in 2004 to investigate allegations of physical and/or sexual abuse at Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) overseas boarding schools for the children of missionaries.

The four-member Independent Abuse Review Panel (IARP) is seeking a replacement for Nancy Poling of Evanston, IL, a developmental educator who resigned for personal reasons.

The other three member of the panel are the Rev. James Evinger of Rochester, NY, a clinical researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center who specializes in clergy sexual abuse; Dr. Sarah Rieth of Charlotte, NC, an Episcopal priest and psychotherapist who specializes in the spiritual healing of adult survivors of sexual abuse; and Dr. Carolyn Winfield, a former social worker who now works in the field of child welfare policy development.

The IARP grew out of a case of physical and sexual abuse of more than 20 children at a Presbyterian boarding school for children of missionaries in Congo from the 1940s to the 1970s. The perpetrator, the Rev. Bill Pruitt, died in August 1999 before he could be brought to trial by Grace Presbytery in Texas.

Included in a package of reforms adopted by the PC(USA) in the wake of the Pruitt revelations was the creation of the IARP to investigate other allegations that grew out of the Pruitt case.

As of September 2006, the panel has received reports of abuse - involving 11 children of missionaries - at eight other schools or dormitories:

Chiang Mai International School, Thailand

Good Shepherd School, Ethiopia

Merida School, Mexico

Methodist-Presbyterian Hostel for students at The American School of Kinshasa, Congo

Murree Christian School, Pakistan

Ononobeta dormitory at Hope School, Cameroon

Sakeji School, Zambia

Schultz School, Egypt

The panel has had face-to-face interviews with five survivors, three parents, and two individuals on behalf of a family member, according to Pat Hendrix, the PC(USA)'s sexual abuse ombudsperson.

One challenge the IARP faces, Hendrix says, is that "most former missionaries and their children do not even know the panel exists."

To accomplish three goals - getting the word out about the panel's existence, to educate survivors, their families and the missionary community about the long-term effects of abuse, and to offer survivors and their loved ones hope for healing - the panel has produced a DVD (also available in VHS) entitled "Witnesses to Truth, Witnesses to Healing: Investigating Child Abuse in Missionary Settings."

Hendrix quotes one Congo survivor's response to the video: "What a wonderful gift to all of us [survivors] and to the mission community. God has been faithful through it all and I'm so grateful. Through this [investigation] process I have seen girls who were so bitter and angry with God and the church come full circle and once again walk with the Lord. That is the best gift of all."

To explore service on the IARP and/or obtain a copy of "Witnesses to Truth, Witnesses to Healing: Investing Child Abuse in Missionary Settings," contact Pat Hendrix by phone toll-free at 1 (888) 728-7228, ext. 5285; or by email at Pat Hendrix.


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