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Are registered sex offenders modern-day lepers?

Are registered sex offenders modern-day lepers?

A pastor with his own storied past established and supports a village for the accommodation of convicted sex offenders re-entering society.

The Guardian views the story through the lens of Sofia Valiente, photo journalist, who spent time with the residents of Miracle Village in Florida, a mission supported by Matthew 25 Ministries.

Valiente’s book begins with a version of a Biblical quote from Paul 103 – “There is no judging, for we who are here have the same name.” …

It is hard… to align the words with the portraits of the men and woman who wrote them – but that is another of the tensions at play in this brave, almost impossible, project. Miracle Village is ultimately a document of a profoundly Christian place, where the shunned are offered some chance of belonging – if only among their own. It forces us to ask hard questions of ourselves, not the least being: can we, should we, forgive the most reviled of transgressors?

An NPR story from 2009 offers more background on Miracle Village and its founder, Pastor Dick Witherow.

Witherow believes people can change. At Miracle Park, those on probation attend weekly court-ordered sex therapy sessions. He also offers anger-management classes and sessions on relationships, inner healing and life skills.

Witherow has authored a book about sex offenders called The Modern Day Leper. He says he could have worn the same label as the men at Miracle Park. He was 18 years old when he met his first wife. She was just 14, and before long she was pregnant. A judge allowed them to get married but told Witherow he could have been charged with statutory rape.

“If that would have happened in today’s society, I would have been charged with sexual battery on a minor, been given anywhere from 10 to 25 years in prison, plus extended probation time after that, and then been labeled a sex offender,” he says.

Witherow knows that there are those who argue that’s what should have happened.

Witherow considers it his Christian duty to help registered sex offenders to find their place in a world which places restrictions over where they can live, and even to offer them community. Valiente’s response, through her photography, is described by the Guardian:

The end result is considered, and the sense of isolation is palpable throughout.

It is not just a documentary record of a shunned community, but an argument for understanding, rehabilitation, even forgiveness.


Posted by Rosalind Hughes


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Richard Edward Helmer


I think those, like priests, applying for positions of public trust should have their criminal and professional backgrounds checked. But the nature of the sex offense has to be taken into account. Public nudity at a young age (even while a youth) can get a person listed in the register. So can abusing a child. The latter might pose a clear bar to some forms of employment. The first is not so clear.

The problem is at what point do those who have served their sentences and demonstrate repentance continue to be punished by society unnecessarily?

I’m not even considering priesthood here, but just being able to get a simple job washing dishes somewhere or being able to rent a place to live. The public sex offender record is experienced like a scarlet letter for many.

David O'Rourke

Another wrinkle in this is that men who are homeless and who urinate outdoors, oftentimes due to lack of public restrooms, are increasingly being charged with exposure, which can land them on the sex offender registry.

John Chilton

Suppose the child offender is a priest. Do we not expect that any parish that might call that priest would be informed of his or her record — that every member would be informed so that the parish can be on guard? Isn’t not sharing information of this kind what has gotten the church in trouble in the past? We pass along our bad apples. Isn’t that the criticism of the Catholic church, that it places persons back into ministry who repeat their offences?

I don’t have answers. I just have questions.

Recall Bishop Bennison and his brother John.

Jerald Liko

You had me at “She was just 14, and soon she was pregnant.”

I love, and although I regard God’s forgiveness as the thing that really matters, I forgive. But forgiven or not, raping a 14-year-old is absolutely antithetical to everything the Episcopal Church stands for, even if the child winds up married to the rapist.

Even though a lot of time has passed, I am shocked that the author of this article let Mr. Witherow off the hook without any further comment on his despicable conduct, and I call on the editors to add a clarification that TEC regards this kind of conduct as child sexual abuse.

Richard Edward Helmer

Many who work among prisoners know that sex offenders are often treated far worse than murderers by both staff and fellow inmates. Some who carry the “scarlet letter” of sex offender in our society find that it is really a slow, implied death sentence, as many cannot find sustainable employment or housing after they have served their time. One person I have worked with recently (who has already served his full sentence and completed parole for a conviction over a single crime committed while drunk two decades ago) has literally wasted away before my eyes as physical health declines from years of homelessness. The reporting requirements in some states are draconian (having to report daily to a police station at a set time), and the psychological pressure would break most of us.
Fortunately, the courts are just starting to wake up and realize that some of the reporting laws are not only unenforceable, they are unjust, amounting to cruel and unusual punishment, with no real opportunity for reform or repentance. The person I’ve been working with was just granted a stay, allowing the opportunity for full employment. It affords the first real opportunity in several years to gain some semblance of stability and community.

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