Church and Nursing Home Fall Prey to “He’s a Nice Guy” Syndrome

My friend Greg Love is an attorney who, through his firm Ministry Safe, trains churches and community service organizations on how to keep sex offenders from harming their organizations. In his presentations he often laments that the Church is the last place where someone can show up and get access to kids or other vulnerable populations just by asking.

Greg’s point is that there is a tendency in a religious environment to presume to know someone’s “heart” and give them the benefit of the doubt along with access to kids, the infirm, or others who are vulnerable. The problem is that many deeply troubled and potentially dangerous people know how to talk the talk and appear to walk the walk. By the time their deception is identified, it is often too late.

That appears to be the case with this guy, Matthew Porter, a “volunteer associate pastor” and nursing home chaplain in Granbury, Texas.

According to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Porter has been accused of placing a hidden camera in a bathroom used by employees at Harbor Lakes Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation, where he was acting as a chaplain.

Apparently, only after this investigation began did the nursing home or The Church at Granbury learn that he was convicted in Manatee County, Florida for nine counts of video voyeurism. According to the probable cause affidavit filed in the Florida case, Porter videoed the bathroom activities of members of a juvenille Bible study group he held in his apartment. He was sentenced to 120 days in prison and one year probation, which he was allowed to serve in Texas.

What is even more disconcerting is that while on probation he received counseling at Gateway Community Church in Granbury, and was allowed to volunteer and act as a chaplain by both Granbury churches. “We let him do that because he was in counseling at the same time,” Gateway’s former music minister, who also counseled Porter, is quoted as saying. He added that he now believes that Porter lied to him about the Florida circumstances, though the Star-Telegram article doesn’t say how.

Which brings us to another issue my friend Greg Love often points out. Individuals who act out in this way (Greg often refers to them as predators) know who to cultivate the trust of gatekeepers – parents, church leaders, workplace supervisors – the very people whose job it is to protect vulnerable populations.

When conducting background checks, we often see situations where an employment applicant will admit to a minor criminal offense that, once the background check has been completed, turns out to be a gross reduction of the actual offense(s). Employers are sometimes so impressed that the applicant is forthright about past offenses, particularly minor but emberrasing ones, that they let down their guard and fail to conduct proper due diligence.

Additionally, many organizations seem to equate how much an individual is being compensated with the level of the background check that is conducted. Never mind that a “volunteer pastor” or “chaplain” is automatically given immediate credibility by those he or she encounters and the potential for damage to others and the organization is often greater than many other more highly compensated positions. Organizations need to carefully review the risks associated with a position rather than the compensation level when determining the necessary level of due diligence.

Meanwhile, Hood County Sheriff investigators are still trying to identify Porter’s vicitims from the hidden camera images they found. He is out on $20,000 bond so if you use a public restroom in Granbury… well, I’m just saying.

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