Welcome to a new year of influencing a young person’s faith life!
What a statement…no? Well, as catechists and youth ministers you know you play an important role in the development of a young person’s faith. It cannot be taken lightly, and you should be commended for the valuable ministry you provide. We in the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth join you in also creating environments where parents and caregivers can feel reassured that their children are in the care of adults who are committed to keeping them safe in programs sponsored by the Church.
It is fitting that your first newsletter of the new school year emphasizes Protecting Children. The Archdiocese of Chicago has a long history of not only establishing policies that support its pledge to keeping children and young people safe, but has demonstrated this commitment by supporting the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth [OPCY] since its inception in 2003. Following the passage of the Dallas Charter and the Essential Norms by the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops [USCCB], the Archdiocese of Chicago created the office whose primary purpose was at the time training for both children and adults, as well as conducting and monitoring background checks for employees and volunteers including the clergy.
Wanting to streamline services and better serve the community, the Archdiocese reorganized OPCY to include the Office of Assistance Ministry, which provides outreach to victims-survivors of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, as well as the office responsible for taking and investigating all allegations of sexual abuse by church personnel, the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review. The Office of Safe Environment was created in 2007 with the Office of Compliance joining the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth in 2008. So, you see, the Archdiocese’s commitment to protecting children has only strengthened over the years.
The Archdiocese of Chicago adheres to the Dallas Charter. When asked, “What has the Catholic Church done to effectively respond to sexual abuse by church personnel?” the national office, the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People at the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops in Washington DC reported in May 6, 2010:
§ Safe Environment training is taking place in 193 dioceses/eparchies of the country. Over 2 million adults have been trained to recognize the behavior of offenders and what to do about it.
§ Over 5 million children have been equipped with the skills to help them protect themselves from abuse.
§ Background checks are conducted on Church personnel who have contact with children. Over 2 million volunteers and employees; 52,000 clerics; 6,205 candidates for ordination have had their backgrounds evaluated.
§ All dioceses/eparchies have Codes of Conduct spelling out what is acceptable behavior. This serves to let people know what can and cannot be done as well as letting others know what behavior can be expected.
§ All dioceses/eparchies have Victim Assistance Coordinators, assuring victims that they will be heard. In 2009, $6,536,109 was spent on therapy for the victims of clergy sexual abuse.
§ All dioceses/eparchies have Safe Environment Coordinators who assure the ongoing compliance to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
§ Bishops are meeting with victims.
§ Dioceses/eparchies have Healing Masses, retreats for victims/survivors and other reconciliation events. In addition, the Archdiocese of Chicago is working with a committee comprised mostly of Victims-Survivors in the creation of a Healing Garden.
§ There is a Zero Tolerance policy on abusers since 2002. When even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants (CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1).
§ Diocese/eparchies require intensive background screening as well as psychological testing for those wishing to enter the seminary.
So you see, the commitment to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth has not diminished over the years. Its spirit continues strong 8 years since its approval by the Catholic Bishops of the United States.
While it is very important to meet the compliance requirements, it does not all come down to just compliance. As Cardinal George has said:
”The Church has worked hard to try to regain the trust and confidence of the faithful that was lost when the sins of those who offended against our most innocent and vulnerable were courageously brought to light by those most affected. We still have work to do. We are called to bring good out of evil. In doing so, we can be instruments of change not only in the Church, but also in society at large.”
For the local Church in Chicago, the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth through the Safe Environment Office continues to provide the following services:
Virtus “Protecting God’s Children”
Since 2003, the Virtus Program has been educating priests, deacons, religious, lay employees and adult volunteers who work with children. The program combines on-site adult training, facilitator-led training sessions, awareness videos, train-the-facilitator education and monthly continuing education online.
The office continues to train volunteer facilitators to provide the sessions at their parishes and schools. It is recommended that each parish have a facilitator (or two, if it has a large volunteer population) trained specifically for their site(s).
Code of Conduct
The uniform Code of Conduct has been developed and communicated to all clergy, religious, lay and volunteer staff throughout the Archdiocese. It calls for all who minister to children and young people to behave in a professional manner and be mindful of the trust and power they posses as ministers. All who work with children must read and sign the Code of Conduct Acknowledgement Form.
Criminal Background Checks
All employees and clergy must undergo a background check prior to being hired or beginning ministry in the Church. Adult volunteers who work with children and young people are similarly screened.
Child Abuse & Neglect Tracking System [CANTS] Form
Clergy, religious, lay staff and adult volunteers who work with children are screened against the Department for Children and Family Services [DCFS] database that tracks founded reports of child abuse and neglect.
Mandated Reporter Training
Those employees who work directly with children are to complete Mandated Reporter Training. By extension of the Archdiocese’s mission to protect children, it is recommended that volunteers who work with children as youth ministers, catechists, and coaches complete this training as well.
Live trainings will continue to be scheduled throughout the Archdiocese. In addition, OPCY is in negotiations with the State of Illinois to have the training available online for Archdiocesan employees and volunteers. Target launch date is January 2011.
Child Education Programs
“Child Lures” and “Child Safety First” continue to be taught in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs throughout the Archdiocese. Many parishes and schools have supplemented these programs with other programs that are designed to educate children to recognize and resist the advances of child sexual predators.
This last piece is especially one of partnership between you and OPCY as we create opportunities within the religious education programs to provide this invaluable training tool to empower children in maintaining their dignity and innocence. We welcome any opportunity to be available to you to assist you in this endeavor.
The commitment to compliance demonstrates to parents and caregivers that you are serious about serving them and their children as ministers of the Church. You are part of a ministry to keep children and young people safe. With all sincerity, thank you. Now on to a successful school year.
Office for Safe Environment
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