The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops developed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People during in June 2002 in Dallas Texas. This document was the first united response by the bishops to the revelation by the secular media that priests had physically and sexually abused minors over a period of many years. Article 1, 2, 12 and 13 of the Charter outlines the steps each diocese needs to take in establishing a comprehensive safe environment program. The Diocese of Santa Rosa’s responses to these articles are listed below.
ARTICLE 1. Dioceses/eparchies are to reach out to victims/survivors and their families and demonstrate a sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being. The first obligation of the Church with regard to the victims is for healing and reconciliation. Each diocese/eparchy is to continue its outreach to every person who has been the victim of sexual abuse* as a minor by anyone in church service, whether the abuse was recent or occurred many years in the past. This outreach may include provision of counseling, spiritual assistance, support groups and other social services agreed upon by the victim and the diocese/eparch.
- The victim assistance services include immediate pastoral response to victims/families, referrals to counseling, support groups and other resources as needed.
- Regular outreach efforts has included: Distributing victim assistance coordinator information to parishes via pamphlets, bulletin announcements and the North Coast Catholic.
ARTICLE 2. Dioceses/eparchies are to have policies and procedures in place to respond promptly to any allegation where there is reason to believe that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred. Dioceses/eparchies are to have a competent person or persons to coordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care of persons who report having been sexually abused as minors by clergy or other church personnel. The procedures for those making a complaint are to be available in printed form in the principle languages in which the liturgy is celebrated in the diocese/eparchy and be the subject of public announcements at least annually.
- The director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection (formerly victim assistance coordinator and safe environment coordinator) has been in existence since April of 2003. The Victim Assistance services include immediate pastoral response to victims/families, referrals to counseling, and other resources as needed.
- Every parish/ school has a safe environment coordinator who has been trained in the prompt response to an allegation
- Child abuse reporting information has been distributed to all parishes/ schools and is accessible on the website.
Dioceses/eparchies also are to have a review board that functions as a confidential consultative body to the bishop/eparch. The majority of its members are to be lay persons not in the employ of the diocese/eparchy (see Norm 5 in Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, 2002). This board is to advise the diocesan/eparchial bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of a cleric’s suitability for ministry.
- The review board was established in April 2003. This advisory board continues to meet on a regular basis.
ARTICLE 12. Dioceses/eparchies are to maintain “safe environment” programs, which the diocesan/eparchial bishop deems to be in accord with Catholic moral principles. They are to be conducted cooperatively with parents, civil authorities, educators and community organizations to provide education and training for children, youth, parents, ministers, educators, volunteers and others about ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children and young people. Dioceses/eparchies are to make clear to clergy and all members of the community the standards of conduct for clergy and other persons in positions of trust with regard to children.
- The diocese’s adult safe environment training , “Shield the Vulnerable”; is a comprehensive online training that was made available in 2006. Until 2010, the director for the OCYP also conducted trainings throughout the diocese on a biennual basis. Since 2003, more than 7,000 clergy, employees and volunteers have been well trained in ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children and youth.
- Originally, the diocese created a safe environment program for children and youth called Smart Kids Safe Kids. This program was in use until January 2012, when the diocese purchased a program called The Circle of Grace from the Archdiocese of Omaha. This program includes parent information.
ARTICLE 13. Dioceses/eparchies are to evaluate the background of all incardinated and non-incardinated priests and deacons who are engaged in ecclesiastical ministry in the diocese/eparchy and of all diocesan/eparchial and parish/school or other paid personnel and volunteers whose duties include ongoing, unsupervised contact with minors. Specifically, they are to utilize the resources of law enforcement and other community agencies. In addition, they are to employ adequate screening and evaluative techniques in deciding the fitness of candidates for ordination (cf. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Program of Priestly Formation, 2006, no. 39). Since Fall 2003, the diocese has required all priests, deacons, employees and volunteers who have regular contact with children to be fingerprinted through the California Department of Justice. Individuals wishing to work or volunteer are required to have a criminal background check completed prior to beginning work.