June 2017 marks the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. While the Catholic Church has made positive steps since then, the painful memory should not be forgotten.
By: Deacon Marques Silva, Director, Office of Child Protection and Safety
This month is the 15th anniversary of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (Charter). It is a painful memory but one that should not be forgotten. The Charter, which was published in June 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is a comprehensive set of procedures established to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The Charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse by any person.
The Charter practically strives to do this by directing action in all the following matters:
- Creating a safe environment for children and young people;
- Healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors;
- Making prompt and effective response to allegations;
- Cooperating with civil authorities;
- Disciplining offenders;
- Providing for means of accountability for the future to ensure the problem continues to be effectively dealt with through the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board.
As a result of the Charter, the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons (Essential Norms) were developed, reviewed, and approved by the Holy See and subsequently promulgated with the force of particular law here in the United States.
Fifteen years later, we have further strengthened our protection of children and youth, thanks to the deep and personal commitment of Bishop Michael F. Burbidge and, of course, his predecessor, Bishop Paul S. Loverde. The priests and deacons – and in a particular way, the pastors – are most directly responsible for ensuring a culture of safety in the local parishes and schools. They are assisted and supported by devoted parish and school staff who, with the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People (OPCYP) Liaisons, tirelessly work day-in and day-out with the thousands of volunteers to create safe environments for our youth.
Just this past fall, Detective Bill Woolf, Fairfax County Major Crimes Division shared the following story:
“Last night I was called out on a sex trafficking case. Saving most of the details, the victim was a high school aged girl here in the Diocese of Arlington.
She met a trafficker and for the past three months he has been grooming her into his enterprise. Last week, as part of her mandated safe environment training she viewed the sex trafficking [prevention] video that we had put together. I guess that video is required viewing in the Diocese? She told me in the interview ‘as I watched that video I knew they were talking (to) me and I had to get out.’ She also said if it hadn’t been for watching that video, she never would have known what sex trafficking was.
Her parents recognized the behaviors, confronted her last night and she said the video gave her the strength to identify as a victim and tell her parents.
The pluses to this story are that we saved another girl from being victimized in sex trafficking and we were able to successfully lock up the bad guy who is now in jail.”
Even as our Church has made much progress over the past 15 years, we remember, with Bishop Burbidge, our need for ongoing prayer and penance:
“I will be remembering all victim/survivors, most especially those in the Diocese of Arlington, during a Mass of Prayer and Penance, which I and my brother bishops will celebrate at 5 p.m. today (June 14) at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Through our joint prayer and action, may we continue to protect and safeguard all children from any form of neglect or abuse.”
To all our 23,000 plus clergy, staff and volunteers here in the Diocese, thank you for all that you do to not only heal the wounds of our past but to provide our youth a safe environment for a “future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11c).