Fairbanks Diocese Policies Get Review

By Mary Beth Smetzer
News-Miner [Fairbanks AK]
Downloaded August 17, 2003

The Fairbanks Catholic Diocese is the last stop in Alaska for two independent auditors working for the National Review Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Monday the team will begin researching Fairbanks diocesan records to determine if sexual abuse policies and procedures are in place to protect children and young people. The auditors have already visited the Juneau and Anchorage dioceses.

Bishop Donald Kettler said he is comfortable with the audit and expects the team to take a thorough look at diocesan records to see if the diocese is in compliance with new national standards.

"We've been up front with it," he said, referring to a recent lawsuit and several other allegations about sexual abuse and harassment by two priests in the diocese.

Kettler appointed a Sexual Misconduct Committee last November to review and revise the diocese's policies, which were instituted in 1994.

Kettler said the first revision of the diocese's sexual misconduct policy focuses only on sexual abuse of children up to age 18. Sections relating to abuse of adults and the elderly will be reviewed and revised later.

"I felt the original policy did not address the issue and didn't provide adequate procedures for dealing with possible sexual abuse against children," Kettler said. "State law requires immediate reporting of sexual abuse and we wanted to connect our policies with whatever the state of Alaska would ask of us ... who was to be notified and the process of notification."

At the end of July, Kettler sent a letter explaining the diocese's revised policy, titled, "Faithful Healing: Preventing and Responding to Ministry-Related Child Sexual Abuse," to all Roman Catholics throughout the sprawling diocese. The policy became effective Aug. 1.

The letter stated, "The Church's proper response to the sexual abuse of children and young people is to act with both justice and compassion."

Kettler announced the appointment of the Rev. Richard Case S.J., as assistance coordinator and child protection officer. Both positions are designed to care for the victim.

In boldface print, Kettler noted, "that allegations of present sexual abuse toward a child or young person will be immediately reported to the civil authorities by the diocese or others who become aware of sexual abuse."

Under the revised policy, criminal screening of clergy, religious and lay people employed by the diocese and volunteers working directly with youth will be mandatory, in addition to background checks, special workshops and programs about sexual misconduct.

The new policy also initiates a coordinator at each diocesan institution, school and parish to assist in implementing the diocesan policy and developing a "safe environment" program.

Kettler ended the letter with an apology to victims of sexual abuse, their families and parish communities.

He added, "Moreover, I publicly request that anyone who might have been sexually abused by a clergy person or a Church employee to contact the civil authorities and the diocese."

Two appendixes were attached to the letter. The first is a listing of telephone numbers, local troopers and police departments as well as the Division of Family and Youth Services. The second appendix lists the diocesan telephone number for the bishop and Case.

Kettler estimates approximately 200 diocesan and parish employees also received a copy of the new policy, which is required reading.

Employees must sign the policy and a statement of agreement, as well as a statement of suitability, which includes personal information and references.

Regular volunteers also are being contacted and will undergo the same procedures, as well as undergoing a criminal background check, Kettler said.

Kettler said the process started by reviewing policies used by other dioceses before the committee, made up of two attorneys, two therapists, a school counselor, a police officer, a businessman and a priest, began writing their own.

Committee members include Pat Doogan, Terrance Hall, Michael Hopper, the Rev. Gerald Ornowski, John Poirrier, Peggy Sullivan, Dr. Kerry Turnbow and Sherry Wasko, in addition to Kettler.

The national audit is being conducted by more than 50 investigators from the Gavin Group of Boston, an independent firm run by William Gavin, a former FBI official.

All 195 U.S. Catholic dioceses are being reviewed and findings will be sent to the church's national Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, established by the Conference of Bishops in June 2002. The office is expected to publish audit results at the end of the year in its first report.

The Fairbanks Diocese's newly revised sexual misconduct policy can be found at Mary Beth Smetzer can be reached at or 459-7546.


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