Identification & Prevention of Clergy Misconduct

Exercises & Tools

by Gary Richard Schoener

Gary Schoener is a licensed psychologist and Executive Director of the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis, MN. He is the senior author of “Psychotherapists’ Sexual Involvement with Clients: Intervention and Prevention”, co-author of “Assisting Impaired Psychologists”, and has written many articles on this topic. Schoener has consulted in more than 3000 cases of sexual misconduct by professionals and was a member of the Task Force on Sexual Impropriety of the American Psychological Association and its Advisory Committee on the Impaired Psychologist. The Walk-In Counseling Center was the recipient of the 1977 Gold Achievement Award in Hospital and Community Psychiatry from the American Psychiatric Association.

This article has been reproduced with permission from the Walk-In Counseling Center. Copyright © 1998 WICC.


This was part of a presentation, done for the Church of Norway — followup to conference of 1 – 2 October 1997, held at the Sola Strandhotel, Stavanger, Norway. Edited by AdvocateWeb, with permission from the author


Nearly six years ago I expressed concerns about the failure to develop training for psychologists and other therapists on the issue of professional boundaries in an article in the Minnesota Psychologist in an article entitled Prevention and Intervention in Cases of Professional Misconduct: Psychology Lags Behind, comparing our field unfavorably to what had been done for churches and pastoral counselors (Schoener, 1992). In October of that year more than 570 professionals from around the world met in Minneapolis at a conference on Innovations in the Treatment and Prevention of Sexual Misconduct by Professionals, and similar sentiments were voiced by many speakers from various psychotherapy and counseling professions.

At the end of January and beginning of February of 1995 the Norwegian Psychological Association held a three day workshop in Geilo, Norway, which was attended by representatives from every Norwegian province to examine the problem of sexual misconduct and related boundary violations. In Germany, the Ministry for Family, Elderly, Women, and Children funded a major study and report which was led by a pair of psychologists (Becker-Fischer, 1995) and which concluded that major steps were needed to impact on the problem.

Major international conferences on this topic have been held in Minneapolis (1986 & 1992), Toronto (1994), and Sydney, Australia (1996). A concern about the need for prevention, and frequent questions from consumers, professionals, government officials, and the press about why the professions don’t do a better job of screening and training their members was present at each one.

A major international conference on this topic is planned for October 1998 in Boston, Mass. and hopefully will again address these issues.

Materials for Church and Clergy

As I noted in an earlier article (Schoener, 1992), the clergy and religious community have a number of training packages with videotapes which deal with sexual misconduct and/or professional boundaries. I am including only one locally produced tape in the listing below because it is such a fine job, but a number of good local efforts have been made such as Choosing the Light which was done by the Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and which consists of a series of interviews with victims of clergy misconduct. However, the technical quality of that tape is not that good and I found this distracting. All of the tapes below can be used interdenominationally.

  • SEXUAL ETHICS IN MINISTRY. A fine 30 min. videotape with an overview of the problem, a set of 11 vignettes. In the church conference I used two of the vignettes (the pastor who was fantasizing about the woman he was counseling, and the other pastor who wondered if he should tell the woman he loved her), and I also used the introduction when I discussed the role of the parish. What you did not see was the other 9 vignettes and the conclusion section in which Rev. Lloyd Rediger discusses prevention guidelines for the clergy person. This comes with a prevention guide and a very large training manual which outlines a course you can develop using the tape. Houts (1995) describes its use in an article in the book BREACH OF TRUST. It can be ordered for $ 150 US but is NOT available in PAL, so it would have to be converted or shown on a machine which plays U.S. tapes. For information, call (800) 442-4617 (toll-free inside the USA) or (608) 265-3517. They cannot accept credit card orders. Sexual Ethics Videotape, U. of Wisconsin – Madison, Dept. of Health & Human Issues, Room 315 Lowell Hall, 610 Langdon St., Madison, WI. 53703.
  • SEXUAL ETHICS FOR CHURCH PROFESSIONALS. A fine 90 min. videotape with 9 dramatized situations portraying compromising pastoral situations. Each vignette is followed by a panel discussion. The panel includes a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, a pastoral counselor, a pastor, and an attorney. Although I did not use this tape in Norway, the examples it contains represent everyday situations for pastors including contact with parishioners after meetings, etc. A facilitator’s guide and copy of Ministry & Sexuality by Rev. Lloyd Rediger (who is used as the commentator in the Wisconsin tape described above) is included. This was developed by the Seventh Day Adventists. For information, call (800) 641-3640 (toll free inside the USA) or (817) 641-3640. The tape IS available in PAL for European video. The cost is $ 75 US plus an additional charge for mailing (which depends on whether you want airmail or regular). Credit card orders are possible (Visa, MasterCard, Discover). Ministerial Continuing Education, P.O. Box 66, 700 N. Old Betsy Rd., Keene, Texas 76059.
  • PREVENTION OF CLERGY MISCONDUCT: SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE MINISTERIAL RELATIONSHIP. This is a tour de force — TWO videotapes, 45 and 50 min. respectively. One, entitled Once You Cross the Line, shows several situations which are demonstrated, and they replayed with a different outcome, and discussed. I did not show this tape but use it in other programs. The second tape, which I showed in its entirety at the conference, is Not in My Church. It takes a sexual misconduct case from beginning to end, showing the behavior of everyone — victims, abuser, and church authorities. This tape is usually used to summarize the issue, and when I have a full day workshop I often use it at the end as a summary. A large training manual with overheads and handouts (similar to the Wisconsin tape described previously) presenting a plan for a workshop and discussion groups is included. This was developed under the leadership of Rev. Marie Fortune, author of Is Nothing Sacred? The tapes ARE available in the PAL system. Credit card orders are possible (VISA, MasterCard, American Express). Not in My Church, which I showed at the conference, can be purchased for $ 149 US. The other tape cannot be purchased by itself but only as part of the package which includes the training manual and both videotapes. The total cost for this is $ 375. There is an additional charge for European mailing so you will have to talk with them about the actual amounts. Center for the Prevention of Sexual & Domestic Violence, 1914 N. 34th St., Suite 105, Seattle, Washington 98103 (206) 634-1903. This is on the west coast of the US.
  • UNDERSTANDING THE SEXUAL BOUNDARIES OF THE PASTORAL RELATIONSHIP. Developed by Rev. Kevin McDonough, this 35 min. tape has narrative and vignettes relating to sexual abuse and sexual harassment in the church. In Norway I used the segments on sexual harassment and also Rev. McDonough’s statement about reaching out to victims. Rev. Reimunn Forsvall, who saw all of our tapes when he visited the US, said this was the best overview & introduction to the subject. While done for the Roman Catholic Church, experts include two psychologists and a female Episcopal priest, so it has use with other denominations. It IS available in the PAL system but for an additional cost. Cost in the N. American version is $ 100, for the PAL version for Europe it is $ 140 plus shipping costs. However, if more than one copy is ordered in the European version, additional tapes cost only $ 70. NO credit card orders. Communications Dept., Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis, The Chancery, 226 Summit Ave., St. Paul, Minn. 55102 (612) 291-4411.

Insurance Program Efforts

The Church Pension Group (445 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY 10016), under the Direction of Rev. David Rider, Director of Clergy Wellness, produced a videotape focused on prevention of sexual abuse of children by clergy or other adults in positions of authority and responsibility. It is entitled Protecting God’s Children: Preventing Child Abuse in Christian Community and is 50 minutes long. In addition it has developed full day workshops which are provided around the country for groups they insure. They require 4 hrs. on child protection, and 4 hours on adult misconduct issues for those whom they insure, but the workshops are developed for each locale. The videotape is NOT in PAL format and so would have to be converted, but costs only $ 6 US. They do NOT take credit cards and for US orders are willing to ship and bill, but for overseas (e.g. Norway) it would have to be prepaid and there would be some sort of shipping charge. In the US you can phone toll free (800) 242-1918, but from outside the US their number is (212) 592-1800. It can be ordered from Church Publishing Company, 445 – 5th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10016

Resources Developed by Consumer Advocacy Groups

The North Shore Women’s Centre in Auckland, New Zealand, has developed a videotape which is available in North American video format. It is entitled Broken Boundaries (Tsoulis, 1994) and illustrates a number of issues in victimization by professionals through the vehicle of targeted interviews with a number of clients done by Ann Epston of the Dulwiche Center. It is a 30 min. videotape. Most of the victims are victims of health professionals and therapists. They can be contacted: 64 (09) 444-4618 or fax 64 (09) 444-4626 North Shore Women’s Centre, P.O. Box 40-106, Glenfield, Auckland, New Zealand.


These exercises were developed through 20 years of workshops on boundaries (Milgrom, 1992). They can be used successfully with people at all levels of training.

  • Personal vs. Professional: A line is drawn down the middle of a blackboard or flipchart with the column on the left labeled “personal” and the one on the right “professional.” Participants are asked to compare & contrast relationships in terms of ways in which a personal relationship might differ from a professional one. This is used to make the point that boundaries problems are the result of a number of crossings — not just one — and that certain practice settings make it more difficult to distinguish personal from professional relationships.
  • What’s OK/Not OK/Possibly OK? This time three columns are used: OK, Maybe OK, Not OK. Behaviors are nominated for one column or another and the consensus is sought. Then participants are asked how they make the decisions between columns.
  • How to Seduce a Client or Parishioner: Participants are asked to state out loud things they would do to set up an emotional or sexual seduction of a client or parishioner. The leader writes these down on the board. Then, after the list is complete, the leader goes through it and asks which things are unprofessional or unethical. Usually few are, which is used to illustrate the fact that therapy is seductive.
  • How Am I Seducible? With colleagues and other friends in the profession, you reveal which types of clients or parishioner “hook you” into giving them more time and attention. To whom are you vulnerable in terms of losing control or objectivity. Who do you try to hard to help.


Becker-Fischer, M., Fischer, G., Heyne, C., & Jerouschek, G. (1995) Sexuelle Ubergriffe in Psychotherapie und Psychiatrie. Dokumentation: Materialien zur Frauenpolitik Nr.51, August 1995; Bundesministerium fur Familie, Senioren, Frauen and Jugend.

Donald G. Houts (1995). Training for prevention of sexual misconduct by clergy. In Gonsiorek, J. (Ed.). Breach of Trust: Sexual Exploitation by Health Care Professionals and Clergy, pp. 368 – 375. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage.

Milgrom, J. (1992). Boundaries in Professional Relationships: A Training Manual. Minneapolis, Minn.: Walk-In Counseling Center.

Schoener, G. (1992). Prevention and intervention in cases of professional misconduct: Psychology lags behind. Minnesota Psychologist, May 1992, pp. 9-10.

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