Archdiocese Reveals Misconduct Policy
Stronger Reporting and Yearly Training to Be Required for Most Adults Who Have Contact with Children Younger Than 19
By Sallie Owen
Mobile Register [Montgomery AL]
July 23, 2003
MONTGOMERY -- The Archdiocese of Mobile unveiled Tuesday its new child protection policy, which expands a two-page sexual misconduct policy into a 64-page booklet specifying stronger reporting and yearly training for most adults who have contact with children younger than 19.
Designed to comply with mandates from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the new policy follows more than a year of scandals in the church over priests who sexually abused children.
Archdiocese officials said they plan to complete initial training of employees, volunteers, students and parents as early as Thanksgiving.
Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb made the announcement at the Montgomery office of Catholic Social Services on Tuesday. A similar media briefing is planned for noon today at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Mobile.
"I believe it will serve as an effective tool to identify and prevent sexual misconduct," Lipscomb said. "Not even one incident of misconduct will be tolerated."
The event came four months after Lipscomb told parishioners of Montgomery's St. Peter's Catholic Church that their former pastor, the Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock, left the priesthood because he had a history of child sex abuse.
In recent months, Mobile County District Attorney John M. Tyson Jr. has opened criminal investigations into four priests and a member of a religious order who have ties to the Mobile Archdiocese. Three of the men -- Sherlock, the Rev. Arthur C. Schrenger and Brother Nicholas Paul Bendillo -- taught at McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile.
Before the new protection policy was written, allegations of abuse by a priest or other church official appear to have been handled primarily by the archbishop. The Very Rev. Michael L. Farmer, chancellor of the archdiocese, said that was often done to protect the privacy of victims.
If abuse is suspected, the new policy requires simultaneous reporting to multiple archdiocesan officials plus civil officials. To that end, the policy booklet includes contact information for the Department of Human Resources and district attorneys in the 28 counties of the Mobile archdiocese.
In a school setting, simultaneous reporting means that anyone who suspects abuse must immediately notify the school principal, the abuse help line (1-800-856-4184) or the director of child protection. The principal is required to then notify the pastor or parochial administrator, the Catholic Schools Office and the director of child protection.
Even though multiple people will know about allegations of abuse, Farmer said confidentiality will be preserved. "This is not going to be coffee talk," he said. "There's just not one person filtering the information."
The only exception to the mandatory reporting is that priests shall not report anything discussed during confession. A state law requiring clergy to report to the Department of Human Resources any suspected or known child abuse, unless learned in a privileged conversation, goes into effect Sept. 1.
The new policy also includes provisions aimed at prevention, such as subjecting all employees and volunteers who have "substantial contact" with children to a criminal background check.
The policy defines "substantial contact" as "contact with children in which the duration and scope in both time and exposure to children is neither trivial nor limited and may occur on a routine anor ongoing basis."
Farmer explained that a parent who chaperones an occasional field trip would be exempt from the background check, but a volunteer soccer coach would not.
These criminal history reviews will be updated periodically. The Rev. Jim Cink, director of child protection, said the archdiocese is compiling a central database so that if a job or volunteer applicant is turned away at one parish because of past misconduct, that information will be available to other parishes as well.
The policy's training provisions are designed to help on two fronts: to prevent abuse and to respond appropriately if abuse occurs.
The policy requires all archdiocesan employees to undergo training within their first 60 days on the job, and it calls for an annual refresher course. Employees and volunteers must sign a form stating that they received a copy of the policy and they understand they are responsible for abiding by it.
Officials have planned a multi-phase training program to reach the 2,000 individuals already employed around the archdiocese. The first round, set for the last week of August, will educate priests, deacons, school principals and school counselors so they can go back to their church or school and train others. In the second round, those individuals will train school faculty and parish Sunday school instructors during September.
Training for children and adolescents is set for early October.
"We're going to be much more explicit about good touch versus bad touch," said Ginger Koppersmith, coordinator of student services for the Office of Catholic Schools.
Other groups scheduled for October and November include volunteers, support staff, parents and the staff of Catholic Social Services.
(Register Staff Reporter Kristen Campbell contrib uted to this report.)
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