DENVER -- The Rocky Mountain Synod of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has approved a policy statement that calls for suspending clerics and other church workers accused of sexual misconduct until complaints against them are resolved.

The Rocky Mountain Synod represents 63,000 Presbyterians in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and parts of Nebraska. The synod is commending the proposal to its presbyteries, or regional bodies, for their use.

According to the Rev. Judy Wrought, one of the drafters of the paper, the intent was to formulate a policy that would treat both accused and accuser with "care, concern and compassion."

In Washington, the National Capitol Presbytery, a member of the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic, has a similar policy statement about sexual misconduct.

However, the statement emphasizes that no one is to be removed from a post until a thorough investigation is conducted.

Wrought said clerics' sexual misconduct is "tearing the church apart" as more and more cases come to light -- either because there are more incidents of misconduct or because there is more accurate reporting of offenses.

Increasingly, clergy misconduct has become a topic of discussion in recent years across a broad range of denominations, resulting in the publication of numerous position papers and books on the subject.

In the past, such misconduct was seldom talked about or reported, and even in cases where offending clerics were reported, they were frequently simply moved to other posts.

When such cases are made public, Wrought said, the entire ministry of the accused member of the clergy is called into question -- an unfair turn of events, contends Wrought, because "we are all sinners, {and} this is not the only sin out there."

The statement covers everything from inappropriate sexual remarks and fondling to sexual affairs, molestation and abuse. It governs conduct not only of clerics, but of anyone employed by or volunteering service for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the region.

The proposal calls for accused people to be suspended from their positions until charges against them can be adjudicated, and that provision provoked considerable discussion at the synodical meeting, according to Wrought.

Although it was acknowledged that a false accusation could be devastating to a person's career, said Wrought, it was decided that a clear announcement of the charges is necessary to prevent the spread of false rumors.