I posted yesterday about Steven Sitler, a convicted serial pedophile who attends Doug Wilson’s Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and is back in court over concerns about the safety of his infant son. My post was long, and quoted at length from a number of sources. When readers pointed out that the court’s finding that “(Sitler) has had contact with his child that resulted in actual sexual stimulation” likely referred to Sitler being sexually aroused by his son rather than to him molesting his son, I edited my post to reflect this language. I’ve now had some time to mull over the situation, read the comments on my post, and peruse the responses of Wilson’s defenders.
In this post, I want to boil things down to what I see as the root of the issue.
In 2005, Sitler was caught molesting a child in a Christ Church home where he was boarding. Wilson encouraged the victim’s parents to report the situation to the police, and when Sitler subsequently confessed to him he conveyed this information to the appropriate authorities. Nevertheless, Wilson made two mistakes that summer.
— Wilson wrote to the judge to ask that Sitler’s sentence be “measured and limited,” arguing that Sitler was “genuinely repentant” and that he was capable of being a productive member of society. Wilson does not have any training or background in psychology and should have trusted others expertise in this area.
— Wilson failed to tell his congregation about what had happened for a full eight months. While Sitler was no longer living in Moscow, Idaho, at this time, Wilson’s congregation should have been told that they had had a child molester living in their midst because there might have been additional victims yet unidentified.
After Sitler was convicted and served his time in jail, he returned to Moscow, Idaho, and once again attended Christ Church. Wilson has written that Sitler always had a chaperone with him, as a stipulation of his probation. And you know what? I don’t have a problem with this. While I question the short length of Sitler’s prison term, I do not have a problem with a church allowing a convicted pedophile attend their congregation if careful steps are taken to ensure further predation does not take place.
When Wilson defends himself by talking about the importance of the church ministering to the broken, etc., I think he is missing the real locus of anger here. People aren’t upset that Wilson allowed Sitler to continue attending his church when he got out on parole. People are upset that Wilson married Sitler, a convicted child molester, to a woman in his church knowing full well that they intended to have children. In fact, the Department of Corrections opposed Sitler’s decision to marry in large part because Sitler had told his probation officer that he and his fiancee, Katie Travis, intended to have children.
Wilson and his defenders have argued that Wilson did no wrong in supporting Sitler’s marriage because the judge gave it his go-ahead. However, as others have pointed out, there isn’t much precedent for allowing judges to prohibit sex offenders from marrying to begin with. Indeed, Sitler’s lawyer (a member of Christ Church) argued during the hearing that the question before the court was marriage, not children. The judge affirmed that Sitler would almost certainly be a danger to any children he might father, and noted that should the marriage produce children it might be necessary for the court to bar Sitler from living with his wife and offspring.
Wilson ought to have set both Sitler and Travis down for a long, hard talk about the realities before them. He could have discouraged Sitler from marrying given the danger he would present to any children he might father. He could have discouraged Travis from marrying Sitler given the danger he would pose to any children she might bear. He could have told the couple that should they decide to marry anyway, they should never have children. Instead, he officiated at their wedding and asked God to bless them with children.
As one of my commenters noted:
Sitler being sexually aroused isn’t a crime and isn’t actually the problem. He’s a pedophile. He will always get aroused by children, just like people attracted to sexually mature people will get aroused by people they can never legally or morally engage in a sex act with. The problem is he is sexually aroused by his infant son with whom he lives and he has a history of actually abusing young children while other adults are at home even when he is a casual visitor. His wife cannot, even if they never have another child, succeed in her task to have eyes on him at all times. If nothing else, she has to sleep, pee, and shower. When they, inevitably, have more children and as this one grows, her task becomes even more impossible.
There is an extremely high risk that Sitler will reoffend in this situation. He already is having sexual feelings to his infant son. Even if he doesn’t want to do anything wrong, and he may not, he almost certainly will if he continues to reside in the house. A repentant offender would accept this and move out, but a repentant pedophile wouldn’t have set out to produce a family that will always have to be on guard against his predation. The court and the state child welfare authorities would be criminaly derelict in their duties if they continued to put this child at risk by letting Sitler reside in the home, even if Sitler hasn’t actuallt committed a crime or violated his probation yet.
Could Wilson have prevented this situation? Perhaps not. But he could have discouraged Sitler from marrying, or at the very least discouraged him from bearing children, and he should now be encouraging Sitler, for the good of his child, to move out and live separately from his wife and son.
In his open letter, Wilson argued that:
Our ministry to Steven, in other words, has not been conducted at the expense of any children in our church community, or in a way that puts any of them at risk.
This is simply not true. Wilson’s ministry to Sitler has put his infant son, who is by definition one of the children in Wilson’s church community, in serious danger. Both Sitler and his lawyer are in Wilson’s congregation. Wilson could easily call them in and urge them to listen to the court’s concerns. He could urge Sitler to remove himself from temptation, to move out of the house and thereby place his son’s safety over his own wellbeing. Indeed, Wilson could place both Sitler and his lawyer under church discipline, arguing that they are failing to uphold Christ’s command to protect and value children. All of this could be done in the context of ministering to Sitler.
I’m not upset that Wilson has chosen to minister to a convicted serial pedophile. I’m upset with how Wilson has chosen to minister to a convicted serial pedophile. But rather than actually listening to these concerns, Wilson would rather throw up his hands and call those critical of the way he has handled the situation “bitter.” Meanwhile, the safety and wellbeing of Sitler’s infant son hangs in the balance.