Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada (MCEC) has released that it has received an allegation of “sexual and ethical misconduct” implicating a former pastor, Vernon Leis, of Tavistock, ONT, Canada, who is deceased. In order to reveal the full truth, we urge any victims or witnesses with more information to come forward.
Contact us confidentially at Mennonite@snapnetwork.org or by calling 540-214-8874.
Public announcement of the Leis allegation was made on Sunday August 30th to three congregations in Ontario where Leis had pastored: East Zorra, Stirling, and Elmira Mennonite Churches. MCEC has reportedly forwarded this announcement to all MCEC congregations and pastors.
As a result of a lengthy review process carried out by a task force appointed by MCEC ‘s Executive Council, MCEC was able to establish the complainant’s account to be sufficiently compelling and credible to release the allegation and identity of Leis.
“This is an important step in facilitating the process of healing because it allows the affected parties and the wider faith community to confront a hidden truth and bring it into the light of healing. As painful as it may be, we as a faith community are called to support those paths that lead to healing and wholeness,” the statement said. “In the midst of this challenging and painful situation, MCEC will do its best to walk alongside all those who are impacted.”
SNAP Menno thanks the brave survivor who was willing to step forward so that justice and accountability could be realized. We believe you. We honor your courage. You are not alone. We are deeply saddened by the reprehensible betrayal of trust you experienced from a man who took on the role of God’s servant on earth.
Justice has no timeline and all whose lives were harmed by Leis’s actions deserve to know they are not alone. We encourage any additional victims of Vernon Leis who have been suffering in silence to come forward so that the full truth can be known. It is rare that a powerful church leader predator has only one victim. Such offending persons are often skilled at grooming those they target (who are usually less powerful parishioners) to believe they caused the pastor to “sin” and are therefore complicit.
The soul shredding impact of sexual abuse of power from a church leader can be multi-dimensional, last a lifetime, and rob its victims of the privilege to ever again feel at home in the family of God or within the walls of a Christian church.
Mennonite pastor Vernon Leis
The actions of one man can cause a ripple of pain that continues through the families of both predator and victim and through the faith communities to which they both belong.
We applaud MCEC leaders for taking this preventative public action. When Mennonite institutions immediately and publicly identify the person against whom allegations have been made and invite others with more information to come forward, it creates several important preventative benefits:
1) An effective strategy of prevention is realized, letting the entire faith community know that those who would cover-up or continue to perpetrate these deeply harmful acts of violation will be held to public account by the church and its institutional leadership.
2) If the alleged predator is still living, it warns others of risk
3) Living or dead, other victims of the accused will know they were not the only ones and feel freer to bring important additional information to the case. Justice has no timeline.
4) Survivors of other church leader abuses are encouraged to come forward
5) The church is now more likely to become a sanctuary where God’s healing love is able to flourish in the light of truth.
Such effective prevention will become a reality when survivors, witnesses and whistleblowers feel safe enough to come forward. It will become reality as courageous and conscientious leaders in the church press make sure all reports and allegations are passed along to the public, encouraging others with information to come forward so that the full truth can be discovered.
This holocaust of hidden anguish perpetrated against our own by our own will stop when those who hold the special privilege of leadership in the Mennonite church —across all congregations, conferences, and institutions —are publicly named and held accountable for any attempt to sexualize the sacred relational contract they hold with persons under their nurture and care.
All genders suffer from this system below, illustrated by pastor David Hayward. All genders can suffer violation, all genders can perpetrate it. We break the cycle by ending the silence.
6 previous comments
JANE THORLEY ROESCHLEY says:
Sep 5, 2015
Well presented — this is both invitational and informational. We need both, again and again and again…..
JOANN EVANS says:
Sep 10, 2015
I was brought here by editorial comments “A disservice to a man of faith” in The Waterloo Region Record September 10 2015. I have been a secular resident of Waterloo Region for 30 years now and had never heard of this man before. I will be watching the story now.
JEFF ALTARAS says:
Sep 10, 2015
It is never easy when a perpetrator is “outed”. The interesting thing to me is that most religious perpetrators seem to be men, and it seems that men are the ones that jump on the band wagon, first, in defense of the perpetrator. Isn’t it tragic that we first aim to protect the perpetrator, with little concern for those whose lives have been tragically damaged from the grooming and the betrayal? This is an issue with our patriarchal society, and this is the reason why victims take so long to come out. Victims are afraid they won’t be believed and that they will be smeared, when their lives are already tragically damaged from abuse. I would suggest that MCEC absolutely did the right thing. There are plenty of examples out there of how not to do this (the Catholic church). We as a society, need to wake up and realize that this issue of sexual exploitation and abuse is rampant and frankly, is an epidemic. What is it about us that immediately jumps into defending a perpetrator without the facts, which by the way, unless one is personally involved, one is not entitled to know? Men, where is your leadership to stop sexual exploitation? How would you be reacting to this if this were your daughter? Wake up.
JEFF ALTARAS says:
Sep 10, 2015
In addition, I would like to add that there are now two items in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record about this matter. An article and an Editorial. Both attempt to use the old world tool of “shaming” as a way to respond to the MCEC release.
It seems to me that these editors are simply perpetuating the same old world thoughts around abuse. Where have they been? These are journalists.
There is plenty of literature, (thanks to the Catholics) on this topic. This being said, it is clear that the rants and tantrums of the authors and participants in these 2 pieces of journalism have no clue about the issue of abuse.
If we take the “sexual” out of “sexual abuse”, we clearly see this matter is an example of abuse of power. And when there is a power differential (Pastors, priests, doctors, teachers), sex with someone who has entrusted you to teach them, to share spiritual knowledge with them, to have you treat their sickness, and so on…sex, in these cases, can never be consensual. Tell me your reaction when your daughter comes home and tells you she had sex with her teacher.
Marie Fortune is a pioneer in this area of abuse and she has clearly explained abuse of power in her book “Is Nothing Sacred”. A simple search on the internet will reveal this truth: when there is a power differential, there can never be consensual sex. Never. No matter the age of anyone involved.
In the end, these two journalistic disasters show just how uneducated these writers are on the subject they are choosing to rant about.
MARY DISPENZA says:
Oct 6, 2015
Jeff Altaras is brilliant in his understanding of sexual exploitation as a misuse of power – almost always at the hands of men. When these hands are the hands of men consecrated in ministry to represent God, there is the additional destruction of faith caused by the betrayal of God’s representative. And until the cycle of shame, silence and secrecy begins to crumple – Churches will never reflect God’s love, compassion, protection, and healing.
Mary Dispenza, author of Split: A Child, A Priest, and the Catholic Church.
BARBRA GRABER says:
Oct 7, 2015
I haven’t had the strength to even go look at the articles you reference, Jeff. You speak such important truths. Thank you for doing what few Mennonite men for whatever reason are not doing: taking a clear public stand for the victims of our church and clearly standing up to their perpetrators. The game of underhandedly working against the cause, while simultaneously giving lip service for the cause is an old one for sure.