The United Methodist Church finally notifies its members about an abusive minister; SNAP says the action is too little too late
On August 18, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the United Methodist Church shared with parishioners in the denomination’s Baltimore-Washington Conference that Rev. Mark Schaefer had his clergy credentials removed following allegations of "clergy sexual misconduct." To us, this notification definitely falls under the category of far too little, way too late.
In her email, the Bishop acknowledged that in 2019 she received an allegation against Rev. Schaefer, a campus minister and university chaplain at American University in Washington, DC, at the time. The Reverend appears to have admitted that he groomed and sexually abused a University student, since the denomination required him to disclose his misconduct to American University, undergo six months of psychological assessment and counseling, and complete three years of probation. However, Fr. Schaeffer retained his clergy credentials, with the understanding that any additional violations "could" result in surrendering his credentials. The following year, two more American students came forward to file formal complaints, and Rev. Schaefer, admitting the allegations, at last surrendered his license.
While Rev. Schaeffer was removed from his position at the University by the end of 2019, he was subsequently appointed to Cheltenham United Methodist Church in Cheltenham, MD, and then to St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Bowie, MD. In a statement to the Religious News Service following the Bishop's email, the Baltimore-Washington Conference further acknowledged that, “Schaefer presently works for Potomac United Methodist Church in a lay (non-clergy) position."
Clergy are put on a pedestal. When a cleric has sex with a parishioner or someone they are counseling, even an adult, there is an imbalance of power and the sex is not truly consensual. In fact, it is a crime in a handful of states. We here at SNAP have seen just how much damage this "misconduct" can inflict on the survivor, and we know of those who have taken their own lives in their pain.
We hope that there is an investigation into why Bishop Easterling took so long to act against Rev. Schaefer and to notify the affected communities. The Bishop apparently not only did not recognize the seriousness of the complaints or the risks involved in allowing the Reverend to continue in ministry, but it also looks like she failed to inform the people at his new assignments of the admitted allegations until last week. In our view, Bishop Easterling endangered these communities and should tender her resignation. In addition, we say shame on the UMC for allowing an admitted abuser to continue in positions of authority. We hope that members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference are as appalled as we are.
We urge anyone who may have seen, suspected, or suffered abuse at the hands of Rev. Schaefer to come forward and make a report to secular authorities. We already know the former Reverend had at least three victims, and we hope that others who may have been suffering in silence will be emboldened by the fact that they are not alone, speak out, and begin to heal.