Vigilance Sought Against Abuse

By J. Michael Parker
San Antonio Express [San Antonio TX]
July 5, 2003

Providing a safe environment in parishes and institutions of the Archdiocese of San Antonio will be everybody's job, the chairman of Archbishop Patrick Flores' new policy review board declared.

The archdiocese's newly revised sexual misconduct policy calls on all church personnel in the 19-county archdiocese to be alert and report questionable conduct promptly to superiors.

"Everyone at every level must feel a personal responsibility for this," said Al Notzon, who recruited the other 10 review board members, including State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, and 225th District Court Judge John J. Specia.

Flores introduced the board's members last week and presented the new policy handbook for compliance with the national church's Charter for Protection of Children and Young People.

Basic procedures for responding to formal sex abuse allegations haven't changed.

Major innovations include the review board, a victim assistance/safe environment director, coordinators in each parish and institution, criminal background checks on all archdiocesan personnel and notification of any criminal or sexual misconduct allegations against any priest who comes to the diocese from another diocese or a religious order.

Both the national charter and the new archdiocesan policy prohibit any priest who has sexually abused a minor from being transferred to or received from another diocese or religious province for ministry.

Parishes still must ascertain from the Chancery whether visiting priests who offer to help with ministerial duties have been granted faculties to minister here before accepting their services. Some have neglected to do that in the past.

The new safe environment director's job description includes coordinating care for sex abuse victims, designating and training coordinators in each parish and institution, and monitoring criminal background checks on all church personnel.

"This is an enormous job for one person to handle," said Michelle Stiller, care program director for the Children's Advocacy Center. "Just supervising criminal background checks could be a full-time job. I wonder if there will be enough time to respond to victims' and families' needs."

The new policy includes ethical behavior standards without detailing acceptable and unacceptable activities with children. Those specifics are covered in mandatory training videos, said Deacon Pat Rodgers, archdiocesan communications director.

He said more than 60,000 employees and volunteers have undergone such training.

The San Antonio policy still is not nearly as comprehensive as the Austin and Dallas diocesan policies were even before the national charter was approved last year by the U.S. Catholic bishops. Neither is the Diocese of San Angelo's new 48-page policy as comprehensive as those, but few are.

The San Angelo policy gives specific examples of appropriate and inappropriate conduct with children. It also includes a detailed communications policy.

Rodgers said he is preparing a communications policy for the archdiocese.

Flores and Notzon stressed that the new handbook is still a work in progress. Board members will discuss the policy and seek suggestions for improvement from as many people as possible.

"We see this as a continuing process. (Implementing and improving the policy) can't be done immediately," Notzon said.

Flores has shown interest in organizing town hall meetings to bring the wider community into the discussion of sexual abuse issues. San Angelo Bishop Michael Pfeifer has done that in his diocese, bringing judges, district attorneys, mayors, parents and others into the discussion.


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