Thursday, March 3, 2011

Molester's church

http://www.ydr.com/opinion/ci_17514017
YDR Opinion: Molester's church should be ID'd
Updated: 03/02/2011 08:18:16 AM EST




Recently, Donald W. Smith, 52, formerly of West Manchester Township, was sentenced to six to 12 years in state prison for molesting three girls ages 12 through 15.
According to a police affidavit in the case, Mr. Smith met the youngsters through his church, where he served as a Sunday school teacher and youth counselor.

He had pleaded guilty, and he was taken into custody after Judge John Kennedy sentenced him.

Good. He deserves at least six years for molesting the girls and for violating the trust placed in him as a Sunday school teacher and youth counselor.

People who use such positions of trust to gain access to or "groom" victims deserve extra punishment - as legislation passed last year by state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, allows in corruption of minors cases.

Parents of York County children can have a bit more peace of mind knowing that Mr. Smith is in jail for, we hope, at least six years.

But one thing that we don't know is which church Mr. Smith "served" at as a Sunday school teacher.

That's because it's not included in the police affidavit or court documents.

District Attorney Tom Kearney said he was forbidden by rules of professional conduct to reveal information about cases that's not in public records.

West Manchester Township Police, which investigated the case and filed charges against Mr. Smith, did not include the name of the church in the affidavit.

Chief Arthur Smith said he thought his officers didn't identify the church to "protect" it.

"Anybody who knew him knew he was the Donald W. Smith who was arrested," the chief said. "Everybody in the church knew it was him. We were trying not to smear the church and its people. . . . He's not associated with the church anymore so how can he harm anyone?"

That's a good point - and no one wants to "smear" a church.

But it's just basic, relevant information.

What if not everyone in the church knows he molested three girls?

What if people who left the church hadn't heard about the case or didn't make the connection?

A likely scenario might be a child who slept over with a regular attender there and went with him to church. A parent might not connect those dots.

What if there are other victims? Shouldn't police be more concerned about that?

When a teacher is charged with molestation, her or his school is named.

When a Catholic priest or a minister is accused of sexual abuse, the parish or church are almost invariably identified.

It's pertinent information for the community, allowing people to connect potential dots and raise important questions about whether their church leaders are doing enough to protect children from potential abusers.

For instance: Are there adequate background checks for Sunday school teachers and other volunteers? Are there policies governing interactions with youngsters outside of church?

The Legislature has made it clear these kinds of connections matter via passage of Rep. Gillespie's "grooming" amendment.

A Sunday school teacher and youth counselor who gains access to and corrupts a minor through such a position has compounded his or her guilt.

But police and prosecutors are apparently unwilling to provide that information.

"We are not going to tar and feather those people," said Chief Smith. "I think this gets back to just selling newspapers."

No, Chief Smith, it's not about selling newspapers - it's about a well-informed community.

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