Catholic Diocese Announces New Sex Abuse Policy

WSTM [Syracuse NY]
Downloaded October 9, 2003

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse will conduct criminal background checks on at least 12,000 priests, employees and lay volunteers as part of a new policy announced Thursday for guarding against sexual abuse of minors.

The new policy also requires diocese personnel and volunteers who have contact with children to undergo training and sign a 10-element code of conduct.

"Our goal is to make this community a safe haven for children," said Bishop James M. Moynihan, head of the 350,000-member diocese. "Our success will be measured by how strong and how wide our safety net will reach."

The new policy was developed over a year and a half and was mandated by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was adopted in November by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to address clergy sexual abuse in the church.

The Diocesan Safe Environment Program will include clergy, teachers, coaches and volunteers who work full-time or part-time, paid or unpaid, in schools, parishes, Catholic Charities and youth ministry programs, said the Rev. James P. Lang, who will oversee the diocese's program.

The training will be conducted by Virtus, a program of the Chicago-based National Catholic Risk Retention Group.

The safe environment program is being used in more than 75 dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Boston, which has been at the center of the nationwide priest sex abuse scandal.

Virtus will train 80 facilitators, who'll undergo an extensive 16-hour curriculum. They, in turn, will provide training for others, Lang said.

All current and new clergy, employees and volunteers will be required to attend a four-hour training course called "Protecting God's Children," Lang said. Once trained, individuals will receive yearly update training.

"We want to ensure that it remains high in people's consciences," he said.

The first training session was scheduled for Friday in Binghamton and will include 500 teachers and other diocesan personnel, Lang said.

After completing the training, individuals will undergo a criminal background check conducted by ADP Screening and Selection Services. Currently, only seminarians, teachers and daycare workers undergo such screening.

The discovery of non-sex-related offenses will be considered on an individual basis, Lang said.

Individuals who pass the screening process must sign a code of conduct.

"This is your classic barrier system," Lang said. "It is a barrier that no perpetrator will want to go through. A perpetrator wants easy access to children."

The Syracuse diocese, which covers a seven-county area in upstate New York, has permanently removed eight priests from ministry because of credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

Church officials have declined to comment on pending lawsuits but acknowledge the diocese faces at least 10 lawsuits that accuse five different priests of sexual misconduct and collectively seek more than $300 million.

Attorney Frank Policelli represents five of the alleged victims. Policelli contends diocesan officials have conspired to keep past sex crimes by priests hidden from the public.

On Thursday, he questioned how effective the program could be if the Catholic Church continues its "insulated culture."

"It doesn't go back and help any of the past victims. Maybe, that's all they can do is something prospective," Policelli said.

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