Safe Environment: What the Church is Doing to Protect Young People

“Awareness” is defined as having knowledge; conscious; informed; alert. This is the heart of our Safe Environment Program, and it has been our guide and direction since 2002. From the U. S. bishops to the children in our church and school programs, we have first and foremost strived to obtain and share knowledge on a consistent basis on how we can protect those who are in harm’s way. Unfortunately sexual abuse is not uncommon, as one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.1

Today, 14 years after the start of our Safe Environment Program, Virtus™ – Protecting God’s Children, the news continues to remind us to be aware and steadfast in keeping children and vulnerable adults safe from abuse. With the Oscar win for the movie Spotlight and the recent news of the grand jury report from Altoona, Pennsylvania on priest abuses, we know we must always be aware and vigilant on the issue of sexual abuse.

When the news broke in 2002 on the priest abuses, the U. S. bishops met in Dallas to discuss how they would address this difficult situation. On June 14 of that same year, the bishops approved a document that would set in motion the plan to help keep children safe from harm and what must be done if abuse is discovered. That document is the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. From it two important documents were created and implemented in each diocese.

The first is an abuse policy that stipulates how the diocese would act and react to child sexual abuse reports. This would include the formation of a review board made of volunteers to help the local bishop respond to possible abuse issues as they arise.

The second document is the Code of Pastoral Conduct. This document is designed to show safe and appropriate boundaries for those who volunteer with children and all diocesan employees in their service to the Church.

From the charter each diocese in the country has developed a Safe Environment Program to help keep children and vulnerable adults safe from harm. These programs work on two levels: adults and children.

With adults there are two components: training and background. With children, age appropriate training is the main focus.  Over the life of our program the Diocese of Shreveport has trained and background checked over 7,000 adults, and annually trains over 4,000 children who are present in our parish catechesis programs and schools.

In a statement on the Protection of Children, Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, said, “As stated in the Charter, we are to cooperate with law-enforcement agencies, permanently remove those who have offended and effectively create a safe environment for our children. Only with vigilance can we ensure that children are kept safe and so allow the Church to help our people in a process of healing and address the mistrust that rises from these cases.”

This is our awareness, there will always be those who wish to do harm to children and vulnerable adults. We in turn will always do what we can to protect them.

1.Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics and risk factors. Child Abuse & Neglect 14, 19-28. doi:10.1016/0145-2134(90)90077-7

by Michael Straub, Safe Environment Coordinator

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