Film is occasion to reflect on church’s safe environment efforts

Categories: Around the Diocese

infographic1The Visitor

Every journalist’s dream is to land a good scoop that captures the world’s attention and positively impacts society. That’s what happened to The Boston Globe’s investigative team 13 years ago when they uncovered details about the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in 2002.

A new film titled “Spotlight,” named for the Globe’s reporting team, will premiere in the U.S. in limited locations Nov. 6 and is expected to hit most major theaters Nov. 20. The film depicts the reporter’s stories and events leading up to the articles published as the investigation unfolded.

While some argue that these articles hurt the image of the Catholic Church, others say it was exactly what was needed. Either way, it puts the “spotlight” where it should be — on helping victims and their families find healing and taking the necessary steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Important lessons

Long before the scandal emerged and the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” was adopted by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2002, St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney was at the forefront of initiating policies for creating safe environments.

Bishop Kinney, now retired, served as chairman for the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. In a letter written in 2002, he said the U.S. bishops began educating themselves about the problem of sexual abuse with the help of experts as far back as the mid-1980s.

“We found ourselves learning, along with the rest of society and, sometimes, along with the experts, that child sexual abuse is more widespread than most people realized,” he wrote.

“One important lesson has been that abusers are sick people driven by compulsions which can be treated but not eradicated. Another was that abusers are not an identifiable class of people, easily distinguished by suspicious behavior. Nor are they limited to one group of people
or one profession. They can be parents, relatives, teachers, counselors and, sadly, sometimes priests.”

He acknowledged the reality of the sexual abuse scandal and publicly apologized on behalf of all U.S. bishops.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States are deeply sorry for what has happened to innocent children due to the abuse perpetrated by some priests,” he said in the letter.

“The Church’s commitment to the sanctity of the family and to the care, nurture and education of children comes too near the heart of what we are all about to feel anything but regret that a single child should be harmed by someone serving in her name.”

In 2002, the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” was released as a comprehensive set of procedures established by the USCCB for addressing 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. (The full text of the charter is available at www.usccb.org).

Making great strides

Bishop Donald Kettler has made it well known that creating safe environments is a priority for the Diocese of St. Cloud because it helps to ensure the safety and safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.

As part of the charter, each diocese was asked to procure a victims’ assistance coordinator to be available as a safe person to receive anyone coming forward with allegations of abuse. In the St. Cloud Diocese, that person is Roxann Storms, a licensed clinical social worker.

Storms said the charter has “instituted a focal point on creating safe environments for children and young people.” But Storms is often met with questions and concerns from people who have no awareness of the lengths the diocese has gone in protecting children.

“They think that the church hasn’t done anything, that nothing has changed,” she said, “when in fact, there are 17 articles and 13 norms in the document that the diocese needs to do to be in compliance.”

The charter includes efforts to provide pastoral care for victims (Article 1) and requires dioceses to report allegations of abuse against minors to public authorities (Article 4).

Additionally, the diocese established a review board in 2002 that currently consists of three priests and six lay members of the community. The board assists the bishop on this issue.

The diocese also has implemented a safe environment program that includes presentations to diocesan and parish personnel and all volunteers who have regular contact with children.

Background evaluations are conducted for all diocesan and parish personnel. Codes of conduct are also in place for priests and deacons, as well as diocesan employees, volunteers and other church personnel.

Annually, the diocese and parishes review their records and make sure they have signed documents from all those working with children. Training is provided to adults to create safe environments. Children in Catholic schools and faith formation programs are trained to recognize potentially problematic behavior and to report it.

Article 7 of the charter calls for open and transparent communications about abuse allegations. In 2014, Bishop Kettler released a list of clergy who were likely involved in the past in the sexual abuse of minors. Updates to the list and other information are published regularly in The Visitor.

Independent third party audits are conducted annually to ensure compliance with the charter. Recommendations and commendations are given by the auditors. The latest audit reported that the Diocese of St. Cloud is in compliance with the document.

Bishop Kinney began proactively hosting listening sessions back in the 1990s and Bishop Donald Kettler, who worked to help victims of clergy abuse in the Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, before coming to St. Cloud, continues to hold listening sessions in areas where alleged offenders have served.

“Bishop Kettler went through a lot of this in Alaska and the first thing he always does is apologize,” Storms said. “He is persistent in wanting to reach out and support those who might have experienced abuse and really encourages them to come forward,” Storms said.

Storms says that she has accompanied victims who have come forward in reporting the abuse and is there to support them throughout their healing.

“It can be a very difficult experience for the individual,” she said. “I really affirm their courage in coming forward and validate them for giving voice to their experience,” she said.

How to report abuse

Bishop Kettler encourages all victims of abuse to come forward. Contact Roxann Storms, victim assistance coordinator, at 320-248-1563. A list of victim advocates, county officials and more resources are available at http://stcdio.org/ about/safe-environment/how-to-reportabuse/.