Do you know who is standing beside you in circle? I mean REALLY know that person. Does it matter? Maybe. We all have skeletons in the closet, and while most of those skeletons have nothing to do with our chosen religious groups, some of them do–despite what you may think. And yes, I’m flying into an area that some of you may see as hypocritical air space, but it needs to be done.
If you are a sex offender, i.e. on a sex offender registry or have ever been on a sex offender registry, you have a moral obligation to inform your religious group–regardless of whether or not that group allows children to participate. You may have actually done the crime, you may feel that you were wrongly accused, you may have actually been wrongly accused, or you may have just gotten caught literally with your pants down, but you have an obligation to tell the religious leaders of the group that you’re attending. Often times this is a legal obligation, but it is also a moral obligation and just a common courtesy.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, it’s June, so I get to write more opinion based entries in support of the Pagan Values Blogject (http://paganvalues.wordpress.com/), but it’s also an issue, not just in the Pagan community but in many religious communities. Some Pagans who are on the list don’t feel that it’s necessary to tell anyone or explain anything, even when they maintain that they were wrongly convicted of diddling someone they didn’t have permission to diddle. And it’s sad, but the people who actually are wrongly convicted are usually the ones who are forth- coming and willingly fulfill their obligation to tell.
Some Pagan group members feel that they shouldn’t question their members about this, that they should just welcome everyone in–even when they legally should not because of minors in attendance. We’re not Christians; we’re not obligated to love everyone and certainly not to forgive. And given the nature of our religion (i.e. the Great Rite, Beltane, sky clad, etc.), we need to be more cautious and selective than the Christians and other religions about who attends our functions.
We are often shocked when we realize that a sex offender has been in our midst. While it’s easy to blame the sex offender (as I just did in the previous paragraphs), it’s the groups’ members’ responsibility too. Each state has a sex offender data base. There is also a national database. However, sometimes looking into someone’s background can been a headache. Most sex offenders only have to stay on a list for ten years. The national database does not include everybody from all the states. The state databases often are not accurate. And even more confusing and unsettling is that sex offenders often move from state to state and a lot of the times they will neglect to register in the state that they currently reside. Some states don’t even require sex offenders from other states to register.
So where does this leave us? Sex offenders don’t have to worship with you. Paganism, but Wicca in particular, can be a fulfilling solitary religion. If you are clergy (and I’m speaking in the ordained or trained sense, not the “priesthood of the believer” sense), though, you are obligated by the nature of your calling to provide religious support to anyone who asks, but you’re not obligated to invite them to your group. Some cities have groups specifically for folks who cannot attend ritual with children. If there is a group like that in your city, you can recommend that group to the sex offender. If there’s not, then you could suggest the sex offender start one. However, chances are that the sex offender is going to be really angry when you ask him or her to leave.
What if you’re not clergy? Some groups already have policies in place regarding how they handle matters such as sex offenders in their midst. If your group doesn’t, then they should seriously think about adopting one. If you find out that a group member is on a registry or was in the past, it’s your moral obligation to discreetly tell a clergy member. Don’t be a gossip (because in this situation that can have legal ramifications too), but somebody in charge needs to know for legal reasons. What if your group decides to allow a sex offender to worship with them because there’s no legal reason why they shouldn’t stay, but you feel uncomfortable? Then you need to leave. Nothing’s tying you there, and if you feel that you can’t leave, then you’re probably in a cult.
And when you’re browsing the registry, looking up members, don’t forget to look up for your priests and priestesses too. Sex offenders lead family oriented Pagan groups all the time. If something seems wrong, call the police. You pay taxes. Make them work!
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