Diocese Committed to Healing Wounds Caused by Abuse

By Gail M. McGrath [Fort Myers FL]
November 4, 2003

The article "Sex abuse program expanded," Oct. 26, omitted some facts regarding the Diocese of Venice's care and concern for those it serves, particularly children.

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, promulgated by the U.S. bishops and approved by the Vatican in 2002 requires that each diocese have an independent review board to investigate allegations against clergy; a victim outreach coordinator; background investigations of all church employees or volunteers working with children; published sexual abuse policies; training sessions on the policies and on sexual abuse prevention for employees, volunteers and parents; and age-appropriate training of children to recognize and say no to inappropriate behavior. Through the proactive leadership of Bishop John J. Nevins, the Venice Diocese has been addressing the problem of sexual misconduct by personnel since its founding in 1984.

Beginning in 1984, the Venice Diocese has provided age-appropriate abuse awareness education to children in our elementary and high schools as well as in our parish-based religious education programs. Based on the number of children enrolled in these entities in 1984 and 2003, and the fact that the youth receive training as they advanced grade by grade, the Venice Diocese has provided safe environment programs, in one form or another, to 256,500 children over the past 19 years.

In 1986 the Venice Diocese issued its first policy dealing with sexual abuse of minors by employees including clergy. The diocese hosted a conference on child sexual abuse and pedophilia that was attended by all priests of the diocese. Even at this early stage, the diocese identified the growing problem of child abuse and sexual molestation.

In 1995 the original policy was significantly improved and expanded to include procedural guidelines for reporting and investigating allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. It called for a review board and a case manager. Pursuant to the charter, the policy was updated this year to further enhance and improve previous editions. It provides greater specificity in such areas as disclosure and reporting, pastoral response and treatment of accused clergy members.

Since 1995 the diocese has provided sexual abuse awareness training to all employees, including clergy, and volunteers. In 2002-03 we used a national program from VIRTUS, 'Protecting God's Children.' Recently, we started using a more comprehensive version of our original program, which we've always presented in conjunction with county child protection teams. It is important to note that since 1995 more than 8,000 people ' employees including clergy, volunteers, parishioners, parents ' have attended abuse awareness training sessions offered by the Venice Diocese.

Since 1994 the diocese has mandated screening, background checks and fingerprinting of all employees, including clergy and volunteers who work with children. Just as our training and our policy have evolved since 1995, they will continue to be updated. Our policy is available in printed form and on our Web site:

Within the context of the confidentiality rights of victims, first amendment rights and ensuring as best as possible that no one has his-her good name damaged by false accusations, the diocese remains transparent and open in its communications regarding allegations of misconduct. Our goal is to communicate first with our parishioners through our diocesan newspaper and parish bulletins and then to secular media.

The article stated: "And, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, has complained that Bishop John J. Nevins has not done enough to identify accused priests who retire to Southwest Florida from other dioceses.? Not only is this statement unfounded and without merit, but the diocese has never been in dialogue with SNAP regarding this issue. Its inclusion in the story was inappropriate.

We regret that any child or young person was abused by someone working in the name of the Church, especially clergy. The Venice Diocese remains committed to healing these wounds and to do whatever is necessary to see that this does not happen again.

Every diocese in the nation, including Venice, has participated in a clergy sexual abuse survey being conducted for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The results will be published early next year.

Also, every diocese in the nation, including Venice, is being audited by the U.S. bishops? Office for Child and Youth Protection to see how each diocese has complied with the terms of the charter. Those results are expected to be released in January. A separate study by the U.S. bishops' National Review Board will examine the causes and contexts of clerical sexual abuse. It is expected to be completed in three or four years.

The Catholic Church is doing something bold. No other institution has taken up these kinds of serious studies done in an objective, professional way. Perhaps the Church's efforts to eliminate child sex abuse will spur other sectors of society to do likewise.

Acknowledging the pain and sorrow that has gone before, we apologize to those who have been victimized by a representative of the Church and ask their forgiveness. At the same time we pledge to continue our efforts to prevent child sex abuse, to educate the community and to ensure the well-being of all those served by the church, particularly children and young people.

- Gail M. McGrath is director of communications, Catholic Diocese of Venice in Florida


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