Pastor says he'll consider moving sex offender service away from school

Pastor says he'll consider moving sex offender service away from school »Play Video
James Gleason, pastor at Sonrise Church in Hillsboro, said he'll consider moving a service for sex offenders after parents of children from a nearby school complained and KATU aired a story about the controversy last week.

HILLSBORO, Ore. – A local pastor stuck up for the sex offenders and ex-convicts Tuesday who attend a special service at his church next to an elementary school.

But James Gleason, lead pastor at Sonrise Church, said he'd consider moving the service after parents of children at the school complained and KATU aired a story about the controversy last week.

Every Sunday evening 120 people, mostly ex-cons, meet at the church, which is right next to Quatama Elementary School. Some of the felons are sex offenders. But Gleason said he won't tell neighbors exactly who these people are and what crimes they committed.

"I would never put a picture of John Smith up and say here's his sexual crime, and he attends this Light My Way service," he said.

That doesn't set well with Portland victims' rights attorney Tara Lawrence.

"Child molesters deserve no special protections," she said.

Lawrence has handled literally hundreds of sex offender cases both as an attorney and as a prosecutor. And while she believes the church should ethically tell neighbors exactly who is attending Sonrise's Light My Way service, she knows the law is not on her side.

"(It's) not required by the statute. It's really pretty discretionary and permissive with regard to the state parole board – even if you're a predatory sex offender," she said.

That means it's up to the parole board and local probation and parole officers to determine who is fit to attend the services and whether that person should be labeled as a predator.

But is that notification practical if the end goal is to rehabilitate offenders?

"Re-integrating people who have offended back into the community is always a challenge," said Maia Christopher, a sexual abuse treatment expert.

Christopher, an 18-year veteran in the treatment and research of sex offenders, said services like those provided by Sonrise are needed for full rehabilitation. She said it’s a delicate balance between those rehab needs and the public’s safety.

"We all have a responsibility to be concerned about the risk of sexual abuse, and the prevention of sexual abuse will take a community response," she said.

As for moving the meeting to another location: "If we had another place that was viable, that would be awesome. That would be wonderful," Gleason said.

"We're not saying we have to have it here. We're not trying to make a statement that we have to have it here. We are saying that we need to have this."

Sonrise just opened a new church in Forest Grove behind a Safeway store. Gleason said that is probably too far away for work-release prisoners from Hillsboro to attend.

But he said if someone comes up with a large enough location close to downtown Hillsboro, he will consider moving the service there.