Clergy would be barred from having sexual relationships with parishioners who come to them for counseling under a new bill.
Bill sponsors say it was drafted because of a case in Port Huron where a pastor allegedly assaulted a 19-year old who came to him for counseling.
The prosecutor on that case said because there was not overwhelming proof that an assault had occurred and because Michigan law doesn’t ban clergy from having relations with parishioners who come to them for help, there was nothing that could be done.
Republican Senator Rick Jones is the bill's sponsor. He said the bill would change that outcome and make what the pastor did to the woman a criminal act.
“In my opinion, this was a sexual assault but the prosecutor said under current law I can’t do anything because clergy does not fall in the same section of the law as a mental health provider. So that’s what I want to do, I want to add clergy to this section of the law.”
Senator Jones said clergy should be subjected to the same standards as doctors, psychologists, and police officers.
“Anytime someone has power or authority over someone else and they have special influence, they should absolutely have no right to have sexual relations of any kind. This is the law currently Michigan for jail officers, corrections officers, doctors, psychologists. I hope to add clergy.”
Jones said this law won’t ban clergy from dating a member of their congregation.
“We’re not saying a pastor cannot date somebody who happens to go to the same church. That’s a different situation. But when you are counseling somebody and helping them through their problems you certainly have power and authority over them at that time and they are very vulnerable. So we want them to be protected just like they would be with a mental health counselor.”
Senator Jones said the bill has bipartisan support and he is hopeful it will pass quickly through the Senate.