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 we submit to an internal diocesan audit, but also each year the United States Confere nce of Catholic Bishops audits dioceses to evaluate their compliance with the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the protection of Youth and Young People. The information below is the result of both audits. A copy of the letter of compliance can be found at https://www.cathdal.org/a-safe-environment.
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.
This year the Diocese developed a new safe environment program entitled “Recognizing, Responding and Reporting Abuse.” Four victims tell their stories of abuse and how important it is to recognize the signs of abuse and report to authorities. This program will be used as the initial training and will be offered in English and Spanish.
“Family of Faith,” a program developed by the Diocese of Dallas in 2004, has been the initial training required of all employees, volunteers and clergy (priests and deacons) of our diocese. Yearly updated 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.
One of the retraining options is “Sexual Harassment.” This training explains the definition, types, and the cost of sexual harassment to the employee and employer. After attending this training, sexual harassment should be recognized and reported.
The number of people undergoing safe environment training in the Diocese of Dallas this past year is:
Diocesan/Parish Employees: 2,067
Candidates for Ordination: 157
The Safe Environment Office in cooperation with the Superintendent of Schools, Director of Catechetical Services and Director of Youth and Young Adult 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 “Grooming.” The number of children safe environment trained this past year in the Diocese of Dallas Catholic schools and faith formation programs is 61,820.
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 eight 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.
On Oct. 25, 2017, Bishop Edward J. Burns met with Parish Safe Environment Directors at St. Rita Catholic Church to discuss his vison for Safe Environment.
Nov. 16, 2017, a meeting of all Safe Environment Directors appointed within the past year was held to update and discuss the database and training.
During April, Cluster meetings will be held around the Diocese to give Safe Environment Directors an opportunity to discuss the new training ideas.
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 “Safe Environment.”
Background checks on Clergy, Religious and Lay People
All applicants to the seminary and diaconate 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 2016– June 2017
First time checks: 5,507
Total Criminal background checks: 19,685
Disqualifying offenses are:
A felony or misdemeanor classified as an offense against the person or family or involves an offense against the person or family.
A felony or misdemeanor classified as an offense against public order, safety or decency.
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.
Two or more misdemeanors within the past five years.
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.
A felony Computer Crime or online solicitation of a minor.
A felony or misdemeanor offense against 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 http://www.txabusehotline.org 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.