By Barbara Landregan
Special to The Texas Catholic
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Our parishes and schools work diligently and commit themselves to the prevention of any abuse of children or vulnerable adults.
Not only do our parishes and schools submit to an internal diocesan audit, but also each year the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops audits dioceses to evaluate their compliance with the U.S. Bishop’s Charter for the protection of Youth and Young People. The information below is the result of both audits.
The USCCB audits all dioceses for compliance with the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People . The Diocese of Dallas has been in compliance with the charter since it was signed in Dallas in 2002.
“Family of Faith,” a program developed by the Diocese of Dallas in 2004, is the initial training required of all employees, volunteers and clergy (priests and deacons) of our Diocese. This training is offered in English and Spanish. Yearly update training is a significant part of our Safe Environment Program. Each parish/school in our diocese has a Safe Environment director who facilitates yearly training for all priests, deacons, employees, and volunteers. Training is required annually and programs specific to ministry needs are offered that include domestic violence, bullying, social networking and elder abuse. Training programs are listed on the Safe Environment website (www.cathdal.org) that may be accessed and used from home.
The number of people undergoing safe environment training in the Diocese of Dallas this past year is:
Diocesan/Parish Employees: 2,307
The Safe Environment Office in cooperation with the Superintendent of Schools, Director of Catechetical Services and Director of Youth and Young Adults Ministry instituted the VIRTUS Program in 2009. Using this program all children attending Catholic schools and faith formation programs have been trained regarding “Safe Touches and Safe Friends.” This year the program emphasized “Boundaries” and “Telling Someone.” The number of children safe environment trained this past year in the Diocese of Dallas in Catholic schools and faith formation programs was 61,229.
Policy Compliance System
The Parish Safe Environment Program is monitored by each Parish Safe Environment Director. Through an online system, parishes can monitor their volunteers and employees. When volunteers move between parishes, Safety Directors may easily monitor their progress. This system has been in place for the past three years and has proven to be very effective in monitoring compliance.
Our online system allows for immediate communication between Diocesan Safe Environment Office and Parish/School Safety Directors.
October 24, 2013, Rebecca Lake, from Missing and Exploited Children gave an all-day workshop on Internet Safety-NetSmartz to parish safe environment directors.
April 10, 2013, all parish safe environment directors will meet for a workshop by Kristy Blanchard, President of the Texas Young Lawyers’ Association. The workshop will feature resources for parents and children about prevention of child abuse.
During the summer, meetings are held throughout the diocese in cluster groups for Safety Directors meet and discuss changes in policy and programs that are needed.
Ministerial Code of Conduct
Incorporated into our Safe Environment Policy is a “Ministerial Code of Conduct.” The intent of this Ministerial Code of Conduct is to provide a set of normative standards of conduct for all clergy, employees, and volunteers engaged in ministerial and other Church related situations in the Diocese of Dallas. While the Code is not exhaustive in the variety of situations specifically mentioned, it is to be understood that the standards set out herein are to be considered normative for every pastoral or other Church related setting.
Responsibility for adherence to the Code of Conduct rests with the individual. Any member of the clergy, employee or volunteer who violates the Code will be subject to appropriate remedial action by the competent authority. Corrective action may take various forms depending on the specific nature and circumstance of the offense, including but not limited to, an oral or written citation or even removal from ministerial work, termination of employment or of one’s volunteer efforts.
The Safe Environment Program, Ministerial Code of Conduct and Sexual Misconduct Policy can be found on the Diocese website at www.cathdal.org, click on “A Safe Environment.”
Background checks on Clergy, Religious and Lay People
All applicants to the seminary and deacon formation programs go through multiple interviews. All references are checked and during formation they are constantly evaluated and observed. Criminal background checks are made before they enter any training program and updated biennially.
Religious priests and priests or deacons from another diocese receive faculties for ministry in the Diocese of Dallas after their religious superior or bishop signs an affidavit stating that they are in good standing with no history of abuse.
All employees working with children or vulnerable adults are required to have criminal background checks, before they start employment. Volunteers who work with children or vulnerable adults must have a criminal background check before volunteering.
Background checks audit year July 2012– June 2013
First time checks: 6,159
Total criminal background checks: 18,837
Disqualifying offenses are:
1. A felony or misdemeanor classified as an offense against the person or family or involves an offense against the person or family.
2. A felony or misdemeanor classified as an offense against public order, safety or decency.
3. A felony violation of any law intended to control the possession or distribution of any substance included as a controlled substance in the Texas Controlled Substance Act.
4. A felony or misdemeanor classified as an offense against property, to the extent that those offenses are related to threats or risk of harm or violence.
5. A felony Computer Crime or online solicitation of a minor.
6. A felony or misdemeanor offense again public health, safety and morals, involving illegal possession or use of weapons.
Mandate to Report
It is the policy of the Diocese of Dallas not only to fulfill the reporting law but also to cooperate fully with the investigating civil authorities.
Individuals must report incidents of abuse or suspicions of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment. Situations involving abuse of minors or vulnerable adults must be reported to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services at 1-800-252-5400 or in an emergency to the appropriate police authority, usually by calling 911.
Safe Environment Commission:
The Safe Environment Commission reviews and makes recommendations on safe environment policy. Commission members are also available to assist when needed with training programs.
Barbara Landregan is the Director of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Dallas.