Diocese Abuse Policy Praised
National Audit Gives Area the Highest Rating

By Venessa Santos-Garza
Caller-Times [Corpus Christi TX]
October 4, 2003

The Diocese of Corpus Christi is taking positive steps toward ensuring the safety of children, according to a recent independent inquiry.

On Friday, diocese officials re-leased a summary of a weeklong independent audit of its efforts to comply with the directives of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops when dealing with sexual abuse. The diocese received three commendations, the highest ranking, for its commitment to openness, its "Safe Environment" program and push for background checks on all clergy, staff, lay ministers and volunteers.

"A promise made is a debt unpaid," said the Most Rev. Edmond Carmody of the Corpus Christi diocese. "We did what we were supposed to do."

U.S. bishops adopted stricter policies to prevent and deal with sexual abuse after a year of scandal. They also decreed that an independent audit would be conducted in every diocese of the United States between July and October. Complete results will be released in January in a national report.

Over the past year, the diocese has utilized its radio station and newspaper to discuss its efforts to ensure children's safety, has trained more than 3,000 clergy, teachers, employees and volunteers and has done criminal background checks on all of them. Carmody also established the diocesan office for Child and Youth Protection this past spring.

Grace Rank, director of the office for Child and Youth Protection, said their program is a three-tiered ap-proach to abuse. Rank, a registered nurse who has worked in child abuse prevention for 13 years, said she talks to staff, parents and children about how to prevent, recognize and report abuse.

"Officially, our program got started this spring, but the diocese has been doing this kind of work for the last 15 years," she said. "I think one of the reasons the audit went so well is because we are not new at this. We already had some of the things we needed in place to help us get a head start."

Rank said on average she has 100 people attend the course and training has become so popular that other denominations are beginning to attend.

"I think among persons who know about child abuse they realize it goes across all religions. It's not just the Catholic Church that has this problem. The Catholic Church just got the bad press," she said. "Abuse is in every congregation, just like it's in every neighborhood."

Felix Cornejo, 30, who settled a local sexual abuse lawsuit with the Diocese of Corpus Christi in July 1999, said he was impressed with the recent efforts Carmody and the diocese have made toward preventing sexual abuse. When the mandates first came down, Cornejo doubted that his distrust of the Catholic Church would ever change. He met with Carmody last December to discuss what happened to him and to receive what he had been waiting years for - an apology.

"I was very impressed with the bishop and his apology," he said. "He didn't say this wouldn't happen again, but he did say he would take the right steps to stop it and to deal with it if it did. He's done what he's told me he was going to do and he did what no other bishop before him would do, and that was to sit down with me, listen, apologize and welcome me back."

When the sexual abuse scandal first began surfacing across the nation, Carmody issued a plea to all abuse victims within the diocese to contact him so that he could personally ensure they received the help and support they needed.

"We cannot repair innocence," Carmody said. "But we can repair relationships and, hopefully, restore trust."

Contact Venessa Santos-Garza at 886-3752 or


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