Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It has been fifteen years since the implementation of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" in the United States. Our diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Miscellany, reported the results of the most recent audit conducted between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, by the independent auditor StoneBridge Business Partners. I thought it an opportune time to comment on our efforts here in the Diocese of Charleston and St. Mary's parish in particular to ensure the safest environment possible for our young people and vulnerable adults.
Here at St. Mary's, in every parish around our diocese, and indeed in parishes throughout the United States, everyone without exception – clergy, employees, and volunteers – who will have regular contact with minors or vulnerable adults must go through a thorough background screening and special training to help create a safe environment before being allowed to minister in any capacity. This is so we can be reasonably sure that people who should not be around children are not around children. We would not hire someone found guilty of embezzlement to handle parish funds; likewise, we would not want someone who has committed crimes against children to be in any of our programs. As your pastor, when anyone refuses to undergo the background screening and training, I absolutely will not allow them to volunteer or work. It is my commitment to ensure the safest environment possible for our children and vulnerable adults. To be blunt, I've been criticized by some who refused to go through the training, commenting that this is a "clergy problem," and we are forcing the laity "to pay for it." Not so. While clergy sex abuse has garnered the most attention and is always abhorrent, the vast majority of abuse happens with family members and trusted friends. I simply cannot allow someone who refuses the training and screening to work with our children and vulnerable adults – it's just too important. Our goal is complete transparency.
An integral, often overlooked aspect of our program is the actual creation of a safe environment. Not only do all clergy, employees, and volunteers sign a Code of Conduct, but adults are taught to look for certain "red flags" such as: Signs an adult may see in a child who is abused; signs an adult may see in a person who abuses children; and what actions an adult should take when they believe child abuse of any kind may be occurring. We also are taught how to look around the physical plant to make sure it is a safe environment.
Our diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator, Louisa Storen, can be reached at 800.921.8122. Help us create the safest, holiest environment possible to allow the Good News of Jesus to be proclaimed.
Finally, June 22–29 has been designated Religious Freedom Week. The expression of our faith is a public act, and we have a right to express our faith freely. For information on how to celebrate, visit www.usccb.org/ReligiousFreedomWeek.
Yours in Christ,