Despite sins of the past, Dallas Charter is working; proves prevention of abuse of children is possible

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on September 30, 2018

 

      In various conversations I have had recently with folks around the diocese regarding clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I have learned that many people do not know about the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, also known as the Dallas Charter, instituted in 2002 and the effective efforts made in the last 16 years to create a safe environment for our children and vulnerable adults. 

      Some people I have conversed with think the abuse reported in the media is current and expressed surprise to learn that the vast majority of it occurred decades ago. The passage of time does not reduce the suffering, pain and injustice of sexual abuse of minors or our responsibility to help them find healing and peace. Additionally, everyone should also know how we strive to create a safe environment for our children and how we handle allegations of abuse has profoundly changed for the better since the Dallas Charter.

      The Dallas Charter, instituted by the Catholic bishops of the United States in 2002, mandated various practices which our diocese follows faithfully. As a result, the Diocese of Gary requires all children in our Catholic schools and Religious Education classes, as well as all clergy, employees and volunteers who have any access to children to participate in educational classes regarding child abuse awareness, prevention and reporting protocols. 

      This year alone, we have trained 11,129 children, 410 educators, 938 employees, 113 active and retired priests, 80 deacons and 3,856 volunteers. In the past five years, we have trained a total of 61,677 children, 7,013 employees and 15,874 volunteers. Our diocese also conducts national background checks on all of the adults mentioned above, and rechecks them on a quarterly basis. Since July 2017, we have conducted 4,729 new national background checks.

      Each parish is required to have a local Safe Environment Coordinator and access to a Virtus (the educational program we use) training facilitator. Each parish is also required to post contact information for the Victims’ Assistance Coordinator and how to report allegations of abuse. 

      The Diocese of Gary hosts a bi-annual conference for our Safe Environment Coordinators, which focuses on the prevention of child abuse, providing education on the most current information, such as grooming behaviors, Internet safety and our local county statistics surrounding abuse and neglect.

      The diocese hosts an annual Safe Environment contest for our school children, highlighting human respect and dignity and promotes Sexual Abuse Awareness Month every April in each parish and school.              We provide supplemental information to all our schools and religious education programs through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This year, 30 principals and teachers were certified in the “No More Secrets” program and we will be training all our educators throughout the diocese in 2019, in addition to our Virtus program.

      While no system is perfect, these efforts have contributed greatly to the creation of a safe environment and a deep sense of awareness regarding these challenges among our leaders, parishioners and our children themselves. We can never apologize enough to the victims, or cease doing what we can to help them, but we can commit ourselves to ensuring that the sexual abuse of minors by leaders and volunteers within the Church will never happen again.

      We have published the names of priests who have served in the Diocese of Gary and who have credible allegations against them of the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. I have encouraged our pastors to hold Masses or prayer services for healing and reparation and to listen to our people who may need to speak what they are thinking and feeling.

       I have listened to many people in these past weeks, some of whom have painfully experienced abuse themselves - some from within the Church and others in different environments, as well as folks who are simply struggling with the painful legacy of abuse as they strive to live their Catholic faith and to love the Church.

      I commend all of the good people in our diocese who serve, form and teach our children to know, love and serve Jesus as they grow to become the holy disciples that the Lord has called them to be. Our schools, religious education programs, sports activities, service projects, youth events, retreats and mission trips all exist to help the next generation to accept the love and calling of the Lord. 

      I give thanks for all the good that flourishes, even as we continue to seek healing for the painful sins and failures of the past. 

 

       + Donald J. Hying