The clergy sex abuse scandal was exposed in the Archdiocese of Boston in January, 2002. In June of that year, the American bishops wrote, “Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal,” at their annual meeting in Dallas, Texas. This document is commonly referred to as the Bishops’ Charter and consists of 17 Articles and 13 Norms that promote healing and reconciliation with survivors, provide an effective response to allegations, ensure accountability of procedures, and articulate protocols for protecting the faithful in the future.
This month marks the 15th year of the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, which was revised in 2011.
Two of the most effective preventative strategies in the charter are found in Articles 12 and 13. Article 12 mandates safe environment training for all adults who will be working with children and youth. It also mandates training for children and youth on ways they can keep themselves safe.
Article 13 mandates evaluation of the backgrounds of all adults who will be working with children and youth using a third-party criminal background investigation company.
Nationally, “in 2016, over 2.4 million background checks were conducted on our clerics, employees, and volunteers. Over 2.3 million adults and 4.2 million children have also been trained on how to identify the warning signs of abuse and how to report those signs. The National Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People continues to emphasize that auditing the safe environment efforts of dioceses and maintaining zero-tolerance policies are two important tools in the Church’s broader program of creating a culture of protection and healing that exceeds the requirements of the Charter.” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)
Using the charter as its foundational document, therefore, the Diocese of Colorado Springs has developed other protocols which strengthen the protective mandates in the charter. For example, the diocese strongly recommends that there be two unrelated adults supervising children and youth in catechetical classes and all other activities. This protects the children from being abused and it protects the adults from being falsely accused.
Additionally, since educational theory emphasizes repetition as an essential part of learning, the Office of Child and Youth Protection provides annual Update Training for all adults who have already received the foundational training as a way of reminding everyone of key protocols and expanding on basic principles and strategies learned in the past.
The charter also requires each diocese to have a Review Board, “which will function as a confidential consultative body to the bishop in discharging his responsibilities.” (Norm 4) The majority of the Review Board members must be lay people not in the employ of the diocese. Among its lay members, our Review Board includes a detective, a psychologist, a businessman, a college professor, and a licensed social worker. They meet regularly to review the diocesan protocols and advise Bishop Sheridan in the event an allegation is reported.
Some of the most important people in our effort to keep our children safe are the Parish Safe Environment Coordinators who ensure that the mandates in the national Charter and the protocols from our Diocese are implemented effectively in the local parish (and school, where applicable). These coordinators track the employees and volunteers who work with our children and youth, and ensure that they have been properly screened and trained, and are being supervised in their work. We estimate that over 10,000 adults have been screened and trained in our Diocese since the implementation of the charter began, due to the dedicated work of our coordinators.
We ask for your prayers for the safe environment efforts throughout the diocese that have the purpose of keeping all children and youth safe from those who would do them harm, as we close with this prayer from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Prayer for Healing and Reconciliation
Almighty and most loving God,
through your Son your compassion brought healing to many.
We ask for your healing once more for all who have been profoundly wounded by abuse,
especially those who have been hurt by your ministers.
In your mercy, we also ask for forgiveness.
Words cannot express fully
the sorrow we have for the great harm done by those who were called to be trusted.
In your goodness, we ask for the grace to be a source of healing to all who have been abused, and to be ever vigilant in protecting all your people.
Grant, we pray, our prayers for healing and forgiveness,
for we ask them through your Son, Christ our Lord. Amen
Note: Excerpts from 2016 Annual Report – Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Copyright © 2017, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
(Ed Gaffney is co-director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)