Diocesan Abuse Prevention Effort

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The Diocese of Pittsburgh is committed to the prevention of abuse of children and young people and has a strong public record of responding to accusations of clergy sexual misconduct and has had published policies in place since 1993. The following news and resources are available for use by both the clergy and the laity of the diocese and the public.

Safe Environment Frequently Asked Questions

Ron Ragan, former director of the diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Young People, recently addressed questions that are frequently asked by parishioners about the safe environment program. Here are his answers:

Why is it necessary to have a safe environment program in the Diocese of Pittsburgh?

On June 14, 2002, in response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the national “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The charter requires that every diocese/eparchy in the U.S. implement a safe environment program.

What is contained in the national charter?

The national charter, titled “Promise to Protect/Pledge to Heal,” includes 17 specific articles. Included in the articles is the pledge to promote healing and reconciliation with victims/survivors of sexual abuse of minors; a guarantee of an effective response to allegations of abuse of minors; the assurance of accountability in all matters related to child and youth protection; and the pledge to protect the faithful in the future. The charter also contains 13 “Essential Norms” that must be contained in diocesan policies dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by diocesan and religious priests and deacons.

Are there specific components that must be included in all safe environment programs regardless of the size of the diocese or its location in the United States? 

Yes. Adults (clergy, employees and volunteers) in positions of trust in regard to minors must adhere to clear and well publicized standards of ministerial behavior commonly referred to as the Code of Pastoral Conduct. They must also undergo a background screening to ensure that they do not pose a threat to minors. Finally, training is to be provided to children, youth, parents, ministers, educators, volunteers and others on how to recognize and prevent child abuse.

What specific requirements — that address the components contained in the charter — are included in the Diocese of Pittsburgh Safe Environment Program? 

Adults (18 or older) who are subject to the safe environment policy must 1) Complete an online database application (to track compliance with the national charter), 2) Acknowledge that they will adhere to the standards of behavior contained in the Code of Pastoral Conduct, 3) Complete the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check, 4) Complete the Department of Public Welfare Child Abuse History, and 5) Take Protecting God’s Children training.

Is there a specific list of church personnel (employees/volunteers) who are subject to the Diocese of Pittsburgh Safe Environment Policy? 

Yes. Any adult (18 or older) serving in a ministry listed on Appendix A of the safe environment policy is subject to the policy.

Why are volunteers such as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, lectors, choir members and ushers subject to the policy when they do not work directly with children? 

Volunteers serving in these and other ministries are acting in the name of and representing the church. To children, they are considered people to be trusted whether they are encountered inside or outside church premises.

I have a relative who lives in another diocese in Pennsylvania and I was told that the safe environment program in their diocese is different. Why? 

Every bishop is responsible for promulgating a safe environment policy for his particular diocese based on the articles and essential norms contained in the national charter. Consequently, standards of conduct, the choice of background screenings and training programs on how to recognize and prevent abuse can vary from diocese to diocese.

Who in a parish is considered a mandated reporter of suspected child abuse under the Child Protective Services Law of Pennsylvania? 

Any parish employee or volunteer acting in the name of the church and subject to the safe environment policy who suspects that a child in the care of the church has been physically, sexually or mentally abused is considered by the bishops of Pennsylvania to be a mandated reporter. Every parish and institution in the diocese is required to have a reporting protocol in place outlining the chain of command to be followed by employees and volunteers who suspect that abuse may have taken place.

Does the Diocese of Pittsburgh Safe Environment Policy apply to all parishes in the diocese? 

Yes. All parishes, schools and institutions of the diocese are subject to the policy.

How does the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops confirm that dioceses/eparchies are fulfilling the requirements of the national charter? 

Annually, the USCCB contracts with The Gavin Group, a national auditing firm that performs on-site audits in dioceses/eparchies in the U.S. The purpose of the audits is to confirm that safe environment policies, procedures and programs are being implemented. Central administration of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and a small number of parishes will be audited by The Gavin Group starting Oct. 19., 2009 the diocese has undergone an on-site audit the past three years and been found each time to be in compliance with the charter.

Since only a small number of parishes will undergo the annual Gavin Group audit, how does the diocese ensure that parishes and schools are implementing the safe environment program? 

A procedure for conducting internal parish/school audits has been designed and implemented in the diocese. In the past 15 months, 60 parishes and high schools have undergone an on-site internal audit to determine compliance with the safe environment policy. The diocesan Internal Audit Program has been acknowledged by The Gavin Group and is recommended as a model to be used by other dioceses in the U.S.

Why should anyone in the church be concerned about the safe environment policy or take this program seriously? 

Abuse of children and vulnerable adults is a national and international problem. Experts agree that the most effective way to prevent abuse is to have policies, procedures and programs in place to educate children, young people and adults on how to recognize and prevent abuse. Through our Christian baptism we are all called to share in the responsibility of protecting those who are the most vulnerable — especially the children, entrusted to our care.

Is there someone in my parish that I should contact if I have questions regarding safe environment? 

Yes. Every parish is required to have a safe environment coordinator appointed by the pastor. Check the parish bulletin or contact the parish rectory for the name of your parish safe environment coordinator. The parish catechetical administrator and school principal are database site administrators and are familiar with safe environment policies.

As a parent, grandparent or concerned adult, how can I learn more about how to recognize or prevent child abuse? 

Any parent or adult (18 or older) who is interested in learning how to recognize and prevent child abuse is welcome to attend a three-hour Protecting God’s Children workshop free of charge. A complete listing of workshops scheduled throughout the diocese is available on the diocesan Web site, www.diopitt.org. In addition, the latest Virtus Protecting God’s Children articles on how to recognize and prevent abuse, written by experts in their fields, are published monthly in the Pittsburgh Catholic.

Is there additional information on the safe environment program available in my parish or through the diocese?

Information regarding safe environment should be available in your parish. Check the pamphlet racks in your church or call the parish safe environment coordinator. You can also go online to www.diopitt.org (scroll down the center of the home page and click on Diocesan Abuse Prevention Efforts). A complete list of policies, procedures and essential documents that every parish should have is posted on the site.

Outreach to Victims of Clergy Abuse

"After years of hurt and anger, I broke my silence and reached out to this Church for help. What I found surprised me: caring Catholics who weren't afraid to hear my story and share my pain. They taught me to trust again, restoring my wounded faith. With their help and God's grace, I experienced the healing I'd longed for. Forgiveness dispelled anger, love washed away pain, and dignity replaced shame. If you or a loved one has been hurt - even if you've left the Church - I pray you will reach out to this Diocese for help. You don't have to carry your burden alone."

– Victim of Abuse

The Church in Pittsburgh continues to reach out to those who have been hurt by priests, religious or others involved with the Church.

If you are a victim of abuse, the diocese wants to help, even if you have drifted away from the Church.

We offer assistance with counseling, spiritual direction and referrals to other supportive services. For information on any of these services, we invite you to contact our Diocesan Assistance Coordinator at 412.456.3060, or toll free at 1.888.808.1235.