It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Luke 17:2

Over many decades, the World Council of Churches has consistently made statements condemning the scourge of sexual abuse which continues unabated across the world.  Most recently, the WCC executive committee stated:

“We recognize that sexual and gender-based violence is evident in many different and often hidden contexts...its risks and impacts are...taboo in many churches and church communities, preventing the church from being a safe and protective place for women who are victims of or threatened by Sexual and Gender-based Violence. The church must actively contribute to the elimination of such violence and abuse.”[1]

Since 2011 when the WCC publicly addressed sexual abuse by clergy, [2] cases of sexual misconduct in church contexts, past and present, are increasingly reported. As church leaders continue to be named in cases of sexual misconduct, these incidents demand  church leaders’ acknowledgement of their complicity in perpetuating the problem and protecting abusers at the expense of the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being of the abused. 

We lament that sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse is based on marginalization of women, children and other vulnerable people. We lament that it happens in all sectors and at all levels in our society, including in church communities, and by leaders entrusted by their communities to minister and care for all, especially the most vulnerable. The sin of the abuse is compounded too many times by a failure by church personnel, structures and systems to act, by words and actions that blame the person who is abused, and by silence that denies any justice. At times, our collective failure to prioritize reported incidents have hidden the truth and silenced the abused, thus protecting the abuser. 

Acknowledging and repenting acts of abuse and exploitation are essential. But we must follow up with action to ensure our theology, our education, our structures, our leadership, and our governance prevent such exploitation and abuse. Every report or allegation of sexual abuse must be taken with the utmost seriousness and investigated independently, impartially and thoroughly. All parties to an investigation should be properly supported throughout the process including by being afforded pastoral care, procedural fairness and natural justice. Where an investigation concludes that abuse has occurred the survivor must receive the best support and reparation possible and the perpetrator held to account.

We renew our commitment to prevent all forms of misconduct, especially exploitation and abuse (including sexual and mental), and to ensure child safeguarding.

We call for transparent and systemic change in our policies and practices, in our governance, in every place and at every time we meet individually and collectively within the fellowship.

As we move towards the 11th Assembly, the central committee of the WCC, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on 15-18 June 2022, therefore:

Calls upon WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to condemn or reiterate their condemnation of sexual and gender-based violence and of any form of violence against women, children and vulnerable people; to declare such rejection of the equal dignity of all people and such violence a sin; and to implement guidelines for the prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.

Strongly encourages the WCC secretariat, member churches and ecumenical partners to establish and/or strengthen policies and practices which provide support to persons who are abused, ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations, and hold perpetrators accountable for their behaviour to the fullest extent of the law.

Invites WCC member churches and ecumenical partners to increase theological, educational and capacity building efforts to challenge the marginalization of women, children and vulnerable people, and to build awareness of right relationships and the processes to follow when harassment, exploitation and abuse may occur. 

Welcomes the initiative of the acting general secretary to develop a Code of Conduct to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment for the 11th Assembly and future WCC gatherings.


[1] (excerpt from the WCC Executive Committee Statement on Sexual and Gender-based Violence and the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, November 2018)

[2] The WCC in 2011 published When Pastors Prey in collaboration with the World Student Christian Federation as a response to reports of sexual misconduct among clergy.