THE METHODIST CHURCH, HONG KONG
Progress Report of 3 Groups formed after the ‘2018 Sexual Harassment Incident’:
(1) Review Group (2) Policy Drafting Group (3) Promotion and Training Group
In response to a complaint which I received on 18 December 2018 about a sexual harassment accusation involving a minister of our Church, I appointed an ‘Investigation Panel’ (IP) instantaneously. The Minutes of the IP which had not been confirmed and the contents of a closed door meeting of the Ministerial Session were leaked and widely reported in the local media, making the matter serious and critical. The Standing Committee meeting on 27 April 2019 formed 3 Groups to follow up on the matter and this was duly reported in the Representative Session of the Conference 2019. The progress reports of the 3 Groups are summarised as follows:
(1) Review Group
The Review Group has finished their review and submitted a report to the Standing Committee.
1. The Group review whether the way and the process of handling the case were substantively and procedurally just and fair, and to deal with the issue of leakage of confidential information.
Handling of the complaint: except being hurt and disappointed by the leakage, the Complainant accepted the way the complaint was handled. The IP finally proposed a settlement agreed by both parties. The Respondent did not agree to all the allegations and did not accept the IP ‘verdict’, but felt apologetic on knowing that he had made the other party unhappy, and took the initiative to resign as the supervisors of a number of schools. This was the main reason enabling the case to be concluded. The Respondent was not given any privilege in the investigation. The Respondent requested a review of the incident and the breach of the confidentiality agreement.
The power and responsibilities of the IP appointed to handle the complaint had not been clearly and duly defined, and were even contradictory (see 2b), and the interests of the parties involved were not fairly protected. The conclusion acceptable to all parties should be reached on a confidentiality and a without prejudice basis, and in general, it is not necessary to make any judgement as to whether the complaint is established or not. For the Church, it is not appropriate nor necessary to conduct an ‘investigation’ more in-depth than that of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) or make a ‘ruling’ which the EOC will not. The Respondent in this incident was not fully informed of all the evidence received by the IP, and the IP did not agree to let the Respondent have a copy of their Meeting Minutes. The Respondent was therefore denied the chance to provide a full defense. The conclusions of the IP had not undergone procedures in accordance with procedural justice, and therefore cannot be regarded as a sound and safe ‘verdict’.
A formal verdict similar to that made by the Court was made by the IP but the IP had not followed procedures of the Court in taking evidence and providing cross-examination for the parties. Although the term ’verdict’ is not literally used in the IP’s final report, the Minutes of the IP were unexpectedly leaked out and being reported in a popular local newspaper with the headline “Church ruled Complaint Established’ and the report consisted of wrong details. People have been misled and this is not fair to the Respondent.
The leaks are unfair to all people involved, and the two leak-out incidents caused great alarm and the suspicion that the leaker(s) were among the Ministers. The President must repeatedly instruct all pastoral workers and lay leaders to respect confidentiality, and should express regret for breach of honesty and trust, and strongly condemn such deeds. It was suggested that individual meetings be held with the ten ministers who are highly suspected to be involved in the incident, to remind them, provide pastoral care and take disciplinary action as necessary.
Remarks: President, Vice President and Mr Lam Man-hon Johnson in accordance with the Standing Committee’s appointment, met with the ten pastors who had been in contact with the Minutes of the ‘Investigation Panel’ seriously. All of them expressed serious concerns over the negative impact of the leakage, emphasised that they had not revealed the matter or the Minutes to any outsider, and each of them signed a statement declaring the same. As such, the leakage issue might have to be held in abeyance.
2. Establishing appropriate measures for the future
Pastoral care and counseling: Upon receiving complaints concerning ministers, before setting up an IP, the Church should appoint two to three senior or retired ministers to meet with the concerned parties to understand the matter, offer pastoral care and counselling, and deal with the matter promptly upon agreement of both parties. In case of dispute, the President should officially appoint a "special task force" to investigate and handle the complaint.
The power and responsibilities of the “special task force” should be clearly defined, and the roles of investigation, mediation and disciplinary guidance should not be mixed up so as to avoid any confusion on the functions and possible contradictions.
Sunshine test principle: All compliant-related matters involving counseling, reconciliation, mediation and investigation could be conducted upon mutual agreement over confidentiality, and must be fair and impartial, without favouritism nor self-interest, and can withstand the ‘sunshine test’, and the complainant should be fully aware that he/she could report the case to the police or seek advice from the EOC at any time.
No leaking: All internal preliminary investigation and mediation records should be kept as simple as possible, and should only record the mutually agreed resolution of mediation or ways of handling the matter. Any information containing the identity of the concerned parties should not be transmitted via the Internet nor should it be sent to anyone unrelated to the case.
The report of the Review Group has been accepted by the Standing Committee. Any members of our Church, persons who have been worshipping in our Local Churches regularly, or staff of our schools and social service units wishing to read the full report could make an appointment with the pertinent pastor-in-charge for perusal in the Local Church.
(2) Policy Drafting Group
The Policy Drafting Group has formulated the “Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy” and its simplified version, “Notes on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment” for our Church, and they have been approved by the Ministerial Session and the Standing Committee. The Group will proceed to draft the “Handbook for Handling Sexual Harassment” for ministers and lay leaders for handling such matters.
(3) Promotion and Training Group
Work to be done:
Upon the approval of the “Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy” by the Standing Committee, it will be announced in the service bulletins of our Local Churches and the “Notes on the Prevention of Sexual Harassment” will be printed and put in our subsidiaries. It will be posted to our webpage and a QR Code will be set so that members who are interested could easily read the Policy.
Explanatory sessions for all unit heads and the entire pastoral staff will be organised by the Group in the second and third quarters of the year; a public session will also be organised for all lay leaders and members of the Church.
As for training, the Ministerial Session is invited to arrange regular training sessions for the Conference Pastoral Workers, to help each member understand how to handle relevant complaints, including mediation techniques and case studies. The School Education and Social Services Committees are also requested to provide suitable training for principals, teachers and social workers.
Comments on our “Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy” from members of the Church are welcome. Please send by email (email@example.com) or by fax (28661879). All comments shall be considered upon regular review of our Policy.
LAM Sung-che (Rev Dr)
31 March 2020