Adventist Church lawyer advised silence in 2002 about suspicions of abuse
Cases date from 1980s; some have lapsed under statute of limitations
According to National Bureau of Investigation investigator Harri Rahikka, police are still receiving numerous calls about alleged sexual abuse incidents involving children within the Finnish Adventist Church.
Police will evaluate which of the reports meet the criteria and which of the suspected cases are beyond the statute of limitations in such matters. Investigations will start next week.
The Adventist Church was apparently informed about the suspicions of abuse already a year ago. The cases reported concerned incidents from the mid-1980s, says Erkki Haapasalo of the Finnish Adventist Church. Since the 1990s no reports have been made by victims themselves, confirms his colleague Merja Kinnunen.
Police were not informed, according to Haapasalo, because the legal adviser of the Finnish Adventist Church recommended church officials not to take the matter further.
He regarded the incidents as being no longer legally binding, and he suggested the church should leave reporting to the victims’ own discretion. None of the alleged victims, all now adults, is in any immediate danger of abuse. According to the Adventist Church’s stand, the church has at the moment no legal responsibility to report any cases to the authorities, because the Adventist Church is not the state church in Finland.
Turku University Professor of Family Law Eva Gottberg disagrees, arguing the law is the same for all churches. If the church has rights, it also has responsibilities.
Representatives of the Ministry of Social Affairs as well as officials at the Ministry of Justice also confirm that the obligation to report child sexual abuse applies to all congregations in Finland.
Police have stated that over ten cases of suspected child abuse are under investigation. The Adventist Church is not able to determine how many cases they have handled in the child and youth welfare committee. “Before the year 2002 we had not received any reports about child sexual abuse”, they insist, and also express surprise that the incidents were not reported earlier.
In May of this year, the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES) informed the social and health authorities of new procedures to be adopted in cases of suspicion of child sexual abuse. All suspicions of sexual abuse and abuse with distinct marks must be reported to the police.
Annually there are hundreds of suspicious incidents. There have been problems, and the procedures of reporting and investigating the cases have varied. The new instructions are expected to improve child welfare and to tip the balance in favour of the victim. There have been a number of incidents in which adults have sued for libel, and courts have taken the adult viewpoint.