This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Deceased Canadian pastor is accused of sexual misconduct

Mennonite Church Eastern Canada announced an allegation of sexual and ethical misconduct by a pastor who died 21 years ago.

On Aug. 30, three Ontario congregations formerly served by Vernon Leis, the pastor named in the allegation, heard the announcement in person from MCEC representatives, said David Martin, the conference’s executive minister.

Leis died in a car accident on Feb. 26, 1994, near Baden, Ont., at the age of 60. He had pastored Elmira Mennonite Church, Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener and East Zorra Mennonite Church in Tavistock. He was the first moderator of MCEC, an area conference of Mennonite Church Canada.

An MCEC news release described him as a “much loved and respected pastor.”

Martin said that the allegation against Leis came from one person and that he could not give details about what Leis is alleged to have done.

The Leis family chose not to comment when contacted by Canadian Mennonite, the magazine that serves MC Canada.

In its news release, MCEC said it was “satisfied that the complainant’s account is sufficient, compelling and credible, despite MCEC’s inability to test it in the usual investigative fashion.”

MCEC said it felt compelled to release Leis’ name because this “allows the affected parties and the wider faith community to confront a hidden truth and bring it into the light for healing. As painful as it may be, we as a faith community are called to support those paths that lead to healing and wholeness.”

Because Leis is deceased, MCEC acknowledged that “it was not possible to follow the usual investigative course,” which would include giving the accused the opportunity to respond.

MCEC said it was committed to strengthening its safeguards “that promote safe and ethical interactions between pastors and those who participate in our faith communities.”

Two entities that support survivors of sexual abuse — the Anabaptist-Mennonite Chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and the website — released a statement applauding what they called MCEC’s “preventative public action.” Publicizing accusations prevents abuse, the statement said, because perpetrators know they might be held to public account and survivors find it easier to come forward.

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