Child sexual abuse has devastated thousands of families as the truth of what happened to the victims came to light.
While the magnitude of the aftermath of these events would have destroyed most organized churches long ago, Catholics appear to have the wherewithal to absorb the financial toll this has taken. Reputation, on the other hand, is probably a story for another column.
While church risk management is nothing new with many brokers and insurers with specialty practices and products focused on these exposures, there is something very newly minted that will take the protection of churches and other faith-based institutions to the next level of risk management effectiveness. That something is the recently launched Institute for Church Safety and Risk Management (ICSARM), based in Tupelo, Miss.
Michael Boutot, executive director and longtime pastor/litigation expert/insurance executive, has deployed this institute and a plan for its extension through a roundtable/chapter structure for every major city in the nation.
The concept is simple: bring together representatives of local churches and other faith-based institutions, pair them with product and service providers in the risk, insurance and safety space, and improve the awareness, preparation for and response to risk-related events that emerge from these entities.
This is not to say that churches should only be run like businesses, but that the risks they face are similar and others are unique to their design. In the latter, of course, we must face up to the fact that the risk to children's safety is paramount in these institutions.
The problem that Boutot's idea addresses is a common one. It is the challenge that most pastors face, especially in the early years of growth, but in many cases even when the church has matured. That is, that there is typically no one who has the expertise or the assigned responsibility in most churches to be making sure risks are covered.
The ICSARM will pave the way for a dedicated group running these roundtables to reach out to the entire local church community and beyond, and bring together people who care about these issues with those who specialize in helping solve the related problems faced by churches every day.
Whether it's liability insurance, background investigations, child-protection policies and plans, or the risk of fire or theft, these roundtables will facilitate the match between needs and solutions; or between church leaders and those who can contribute to running a safe, sound and well-managed church, leaving nothing of consequence unaddressed in the balance.
Of course, pastors and church administrators will have to respond to the call for taking responsible action, especially where it may have been ignored in the past. But even if it hasn't, this organization will help churches raise the bar on risk-related problems that should never be the reason they don't succeed.
Too bad this idea didn't surface 50 years ago. Perhaps one sordid chapter in one church's history could have been avoided or at least mitigated substantially. Information on this venture can be found at www.churchriskmanagement.org.
CHRIS MANDEL is the enterprise risk manager for a leading financial institution and a former president of the Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc.
February 1, 2010
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