Protecting Our Children in the Diocese of Shreveport

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by Deacon Michael Straub, Safe Environment Coordinator

It is hard to miss all the news in the last couple of months on sex abuse by those placed in a position of trust in the Church. Even though most of these cases are 40 to 70 years old, they still bring strong emotions to the forefront. We are angry for those who were harmed, perplexed on how this could happen, and feel an urgency concerning the safety of our children today.

In 2002, the Diocese of Shreveport established a Safe Environment Program and Sex Abuse Policy, which can be found on the diocese’s website (http://www.dioshpt.org/administration/human-resources/safe-environment-2/), to not only protect our children and vulnerable adults from harm today, but to also address those who wish to report abuse that might have occurred in the past. This is where some confusion arises and questions are asked. What happens when someone wishes to report abuse?

It is important to know that our diocese has published information on how to report abuse. One document already mentioned is our sex abuse policy, or more formally titled Diocesan Policy Concerning Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clerics, Employees or Commissioned Volunteers. This almost 50 page document explains all the processes, procedures and individuals involved in assisting with sex abuse issues reported in our diocese. The full policy can be found on our website at the above mentioned link.

Another document is our one page handout, “Protecting Our Children in the Diocese of Shreveport,” which explains what we do in our diocese to protect children. On the back are clear, simple instructions on reporting a possible sex abuse issue within our Church (see the sidebar). All of our churches and schools are required to have these handouts easily accessible to all who enter our locations.

As these documents state, when reporting a possible child abuse issue, the authorities must ALWAYS be contacted, which in this case would be Child Protection Services. Following this, we ask that the victim or their family to call our Victim Assistance Coordinator. Contact information for CPS and Victim Assistance can be found in the sidebar, as well as on our website and flyer. This allows those who have been harmed to not wait for the courts to decide if there was abuse, but gives them a chance to receive immediate counseling and healing.
Our sex abuse policy calls for the establishment of a Permanent Review Board made up of non-Catholic volunteers who help the diocese in its decision making process for the victim and their families, as well as transparency to the authorities, church communities and the public in general. The victims’ names are not released to the public for confidentiality reasons, but if the claim is credible, then the offender’s name would be released and the diocese would encourage anyone harmed by this individual to come forward to find healing and help.

It is unfortunate that sex abuse occurs in our society, and more so in our churches. We as a Church are called to not only keep children, youth and vulnerable adults safe, but to also reach out to those who have been harmed. Yes, the Church is a place for our souls to be healed, but to also bring comfort and hope to those who struggle in their daily lives with past hurts and pains. Through the hard work of many volunteers, we continue to be the hand and heart to those who are in most desperate need of Christ’s love and healing.

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