Clergy Abuse


Clergy occupy a position on trust in the congregations where they serve. In their helping-role they have a duty to protect rather than exploit children, young people, adults and vulnerable people. Since clergy exercise power in relation to others, it is their duty to establish and abide by boundaries that keep them and their ministry to others safe and abuse-free.

Clergy Sexual Exploitation means any harm, of a sexual nature, towards another person. It can co-exist with other forms of violence and exploitation (e.g. physical abuse, verbal abuse and threats, emotional abuse, psychological abuse and spiritual abuse). Exploitation is an over-riding term for a continum of sexual harm from boundary wandering, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse through to sexual assault including rape and other criminal behaviour. The victim may be an adult or a child. Since the clergy is in a position of trust, violation of that trust always causes harm not only for the primary victim but for secondary victims, congregations and for the church and profession-at-large.

Sexual contact between a clergy and congregant is always wrong. It is never an 'affair', even if a victim 'seems' to 'chase' the clergy. Children cannot consent to sexual activity, by law, and an adult might 'cooperate' with sexual requests or 'seek' such sexual contact from clergy for a range of reasons. However, it is always the clergy person's responsibility to set the limits of what is appropriate and not take advantage of a person's (perhaps situational or temporary) vulnerability. Whilst it is possible for female clergy to engage in sexual exploitation, more commonly women in ministry face high rates of workplace sexual harassment - mostly by (male) colleagues and superiors. The vast majority of clergy sexual exploitation is committed by male clergy.



  • Clergy Sexual Exploitation should be reported to Safe Place Services, who can offer advice and ensure that the relevant Church entity responds to the situation in accord with Church policy. CSE can be reported to SPS using the Report an Incident form under the Allegation section of this website.
  • Safe Place Services also run a 2-day (15 hour) workshop for ministers and church leaders on maintaining boundaries in ministry. A request for this training to be run in your Conference-region can be made by submitting a request via the 'Contact SPS Now' icon.



  • Seventh-day Adventist Minister's Code of Ethics, from the Ministerial Internship Manual (2004), South Pacific Division (SPD), click here.
  • The Hope of Survivors see THOS provide resourses on clergy abuse for congregations and victims, training for pastors, and offer counselling and support for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. THOS operate inter-denominationally.
  • Faith Trust Institute see FTI conduct training for clergy and spiritual leaders, and produce workshop materails, books and resources such as DVDs. Founded by highly respected researcher and author, Rev Dr Marie Fortune, the site also features her blogg. FTI works across various faith groups (e.g. Jewish, Bhuddist, Christian).
  • Dr Diana Garland, Dean of the School of Social Work, Baylor University (Texas, US), has researched and published on clergy sexual abuse, see
  • Dr Margaret Kennedy, founder of Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS), see has researched the experiences of women subjected to clergy sexual abuse.