Abusers `target church youth'

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THE CHURCH of England warned yesterday that paedophiles were deliberately targeting congregations after claiming to have undergone a religious conversion in prison.

Vicars and churchgoers are "naively" welcoming sex offenders into their communities out of a Christian sense of compassion, the church said in a report published yesterday.

The report - Meeting The Challenge, How Churches Should Respond To Sex Offenders - said that as many as 50 per cent of congregations could already contain a sex offender, and it warned that such people often tried to impress congregations with the depth of their Christian commitment.

John Harding, of the church's home affairs committee, said: "Our experience, which is anecdotal, tends to say that the paedophile who is still intent on those purposes would see a congregation as a natural target."

The report said paedophiles liked to "groom" their victims by joining families or organisations containing children. It said: "The churches are therefore particularly vulnerable, and although the safeguards already in place should work, in practice sex offenders are so manipulative they do try to `outwit' the system."

The report said many paedophiles moved from place to place to cover their tracks.

"An offender may have moved from another church because his offending has been discovered," it said.

The chairman of the home affairs committee, the Rt Rev Robert Hardy, Bishop of Lincoln, said a congregation's responsibility to protect the children in its community must take precedence over the urge to try to rehabilitate an individual.