Catholic Diocese to Run Criminal Background Checks

By Maria Neider
WGUN [Tucson AZ]
September 6, 2003

The Diocese of Tucson will be running criminal background checks on *all* of its employees--- including priests, deacons and volunteers. It's part of a new screening process to prevent child abuse and sexual misconduct. “We are committed to an open relationship with law enforcement. We realize the church is not an investigatory agency. We need to turn that over whenever there is a criminal act alleged,” said Dr. Paul Duckro with the Diocese of Tucson Office of Child, Adolescent and Adult Protection.

This month, the diocese started doing background checks on all current employees, as well as potential hires. The strict screening guidelines comply with the charter from the U.S. Bishops Conference concerning preventative measures for child abuse and sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church. The background checks start with fingerprinting to search for any criminal history. Each person's name will also be checked against a list of sex offenders from each state where the person has lived. Priests and deacons must also pass a psychological exam and ongoing reviews by the vocational board.

“One question is, ‘Will you catch everybody?’ Well, people with convictions I would expect that it would be unusual or rare that someone would get in with this type of screening. ‘Will you catch the person who in a year is going to abuse with no prior convictions?’ Well, we'll get some of them,” said Duckro.

But after being plagued with sexual abuse scandals from some of the church's top clergy, Duckro admits the Tucson Diocese can't afford to forgive and forget. No person with a record of sexual abuse will be accepted-- regardless of rehabilitation. “The risk is too great to put that person in a position of authority as a youth minister or a priest or a deacon or other lay minister. So we have to draw the line there.”

Each background check could cost between 30 and 70-dollars per person. The diocese employs more than a thousand laymen, priests and deacons--- plus, *tens of thousands* of volunteers. Duckro says the diocese is debating whether it will split a portion of the screening expenses with employees and volunteers. The U.S. Conference of Bishops has given the Tucson Diocese has one year to complete the background checks on all current employees and volunteers.

The five men who entered the seminary this year *did* pass the screening process.


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