Why Is There An Office Of Safe Environment?
This actually is a frequently asked question by newcomers, and there are even some long-standing members of the Church who are unsure why we have an Office of Safe Environment. Offices of Safe Environment all across the country are making a difference in the Catholic Church, and the results are all online and available for anyone to see.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) requires that all Dioceses/Eparchies have in place a Safe Environment Program for the protection of children and young people. The “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” was adopted by the USCCB in June 2002 as a response to sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and deacons. This Charter is the basis for the Safe Environment program in every Diocese in the United States. The USCCB established an Office of Child and Youth Protection to oversee the application of the Charter’s principles and to create the means for accountability for ensuring implementation of standards.
Each year, Dioceses in the United States are audited by the USCCB through an independent agency for compliance with the Safe Environment mandate. The results of these audits are published in an annual report that is made public. At any given time, the most recent report, as well as other reports related to this subject, may be found on the USCCB’s web site: www.usccb.org › at the bottom of the page, click on “Child and Youth Protection” › then down the left side of the page, click on “Reports and Research”.
To illustrate the magnitude and impact of Safe Environment nationwide, the following language and statistics are from the USCCB’s web site under the “Audit” section:
“Faced with the crisis of child sexual abuse by clerics that dramatically came to light, in 2002, the church set up an aggressive safe environment program that is the envy of other organizations that work with children. From the annual audits, we can say the Catholic Church in the United States:
- Trained more than 2.1 million clergy, employees, and volunteers in parishes in how to create safe environments and prevent child sexual abuse.
- Prepared more than 5.2 million children to recognize abuse and protect themselves.
- Ran background checks on more than 1,887,000 volunteers and employees, 166,000 educators, 52,000 clerics and 6,000 candidates for ordination.”
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has a Process Administrator for the Office of Safe Environment and a full-time Office of Safe Environment Coordinator to help ensure the Diocese’s commitment to its children and young people and compliance with the Diocese’s Safe Environment Policy. In addition, at the local level, each parish, school, or organization appoints a local-level coordinator to help carry out the Safe Environment process.
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston also regularly convenes an independent Sexual Abuse Review Board comprised of lay members to ensure that the Diocese is reporting to the appropriate authorities and engaging in the appropriate prevention measures.
THE THREE COMPONENTS OF SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR ADULTS ARE:
The Safe Environment Program by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston consists of the following components:
– Background Checks
– Policy Relating to Sexual Abuse of Children (June 2018)
– Awareness training for adults (VIRTUS online or live training)
All three components (Background Checks, Policy Relating to Sexual Abuse of Children, and Awareness Training for Adults – VIRTUS) are mandated by the Diocese for persons seeking employment or seeking to volunteer, directly or indirectly with children, within the Diocese of Wheeling–Charleston and any entity that falls under the Diocese. Every year, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston – as well as all other Dioceses in the United States – is audited by the USCCB’s independent agency for compliance with its Safe Environment mandate.
An employee is defined as a person who performs regular work or service and is paid by the Diocese or a Diocesan-entity (parish, school, pastoral center, etc.)
A volunteer is a person who performs a regular service at no charge to the Diocese or Diocesan-entity.
The Safe Environment process applies to any employees or volunteers who work directly or indirectly with children/minors.
A person is considered in compliance with the Safe Environment Policy upon successful completion of all three components.
The background check includes a nationwide sex offender search. Every employee and volunteer is issued the Policy Relating to Sexual Abuse of Children so that he or she clearly knows the Diocese’s stance on this issue. And lastly, the online or live training is intended to raise awareness regarding sex abuse.
Priests, deacons, and seminarians are considered employees, and the Safe Environment process applies to them. Priests, deacons, and seminarians also are required to complete additional awareness training above and beyond the initial VIRTUS module, as well as more frequent background checks compared to other employees and volunteers.
SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR CHILDREN
A Student Awareness Program has been implemented since the fall of 2005 in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston to give children information (appropriate for their age levels) and skills to help recognize acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and how to effectively deal with those behaviors. This is a VIRTUS program called “Touching Safety”.
The program is taught in Catholic schools and as part of Parish Schools of Religion. Teachers download lesson materials from the VIRTUS web site. Two lessons are taught each year, along with the showing of an age-appropriate introductory DVD.
Recognizing the sensitivity of this subject matter and that some parents prefer to address it directly with their children as opposed to having someone else address it, before a “Touching Safety” class is taught, parents must be sent an Opt-Out Letter at least two weeks in advance of the lesson(s). Parents who choose to opt-out are welcome to the Touching Safety lesson materials if they prefer to teach their children at home.
“Thank you for doing this. I wish someone had done this for me and my sisters when we were children. This kind of information and empowerment can prevent years of abuse, even more years of emotional pain, and possibly even save someone from developing devastating psychiatric and psychological illnesses down the road as adults.” – Message received at the Chancery by anonymous caller regarding the Safe Environment program – January, 2016