Prior to 2002, a good majority of dioceses had policies dealing with sexual misconduct in place. Then came the Boston Globe‘s January 2002 headlines regarding child sexual abuse and clergy. In June 2002, the bishops of the United States formalized the national response to allegations of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy. With the approval of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the bishops apologized for the mistakes that had been made in the past and pledged to promote healing and reconciliation. The Charter also speaks of dioceses developing effective responses to allegations of sexual abuse of minors, ensuring their accountability of doing outreach to victims of abuse by means of an audit, and providing training to help create safe environments and to protect the faithful in the future.
The outreach and care of anyone who has been abused by a clergy member is of primary importance for the bishops. Currently, all dioceses have a person working with anyone who comes forward with abuse allegations. Their job is to develop a working and trusting relationship by actively listening, by providing and offering pastoral care and by advocating and doing outreach for survivor/victims.
As required by mandated reporting laws, allegations of sexual abuse of minors must be reported to civil authorities. Dioceses comply with this law, but many dioceses also report all allegations regardless of when the alleged incident occurred. The Church in the United States abides by a zero tolerance policy. Clergy with an admitted or established incident of sexual abuse are permanently removed from ministry.
The Charter requires that the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection produce an Annual Report which discloses the outcome of the annual audit. As a result of the audit, dioceses continually work towards developing relationships with the faithful, work at improving their procedures, and consistently update their training and educational materials and content. In complying with the Charter, training programs and background evaluations are foundational standards and requirements. If a change in culture is to take place, training is required of clergy, employees, and volunteers/ministers who work with children. Adults create safe environments by learning about the nature and scope of sexual abuse, not just as it applies in a church environment but also in society at large. Safe environment training would include learning about the warning signs of offenders, grooming behaviors, how to respond, and how to report. Children and youth are taught how to be safe and what to do if anyone makes them uncomfortable. They are taught to tell a trusted and safe adult.
Since the implementation of the Charter, over 3 million adults have been trained in how to create and maintain a safe environment. Ninety-eight percent of people working in our parishes, both clergy and lay people, have been trained and have undergone background check. The 2% that have not been trained or background-checked either are no longer associated with the Church or have since come into compliance.
In the past 14 years much has been done in addressing this crisis of child sexual abuse. However, our bishops and diocesan safe environment coordinators and victim assistance coordinators know that there is still much work left to do. This work is a result of those brave individuals, families and communities that have spoken up and reported this darkness, this sin, this crime to the police and to the Church. Collectively, our work will be complete only when abuse of any kind will no longer be tolerated.
Bernie Nojadera is the executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He has worked with the Diocese of San Jose as the director of the Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults for close to ten years. He is a permanent deacon for the Diocese of San Jose, is married with two adult children.