Diocese Unveils Updated Misconduct Policy and First-Ever Code of Conduct

By Bill Pomerleau
Observer [Springfield MA]
Downloaded November 11, 2003

SPINGFIELD -- The Diocese of Springfield unveiled Nov. 6 an updated policy manual for the handling of sexual misconduct by its employees and volunteers, and a first-ever diocesan-wide code of conduct.

Speaking at a press conference at the Bishop Marshall Center here, Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupr? announced that he had hired a veteran law enforcement professional to monitor priests accused of misconduct.

The new "Policy for the Protection of Children and Youth" is largely a compilation of misconduct policies that have already been in place in the diocese, including some that have been applied for many years.

It restates some of the decade-old rules of the diocesan Commission on Improper Conduct of Diocesan Personnel, popularly known as "the diocesan misconduct commission" locally or "review board" in national policy statements.

And it also applies elements of the mandatory "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" approved by the U.S. bishops in June 2002, and the "Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchal Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons" approved by the Vatican last December, to the procedures of the local church.

But the new manual, which existed in several draft forms as the diocese solicited broad-based input from clergy and diocesan officials, the state Department of Social Services, law enforcement, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Council of Churches, victims groups and outside community experts, also has several new or revised elements:

* The diocese will provide victims, family members and parishes, religious communities or institutions affected by abuse with more specific information about resources available to them. This will include information about support groups, and printed materials outlining the procedures for making a complaint, filing an appeal, or reporting to civil authorities.

* Parishioners will be required to appoint a "children's advocate" who will act as a liason between the diocese and the parish to ensure that abuse policies are known and enforced locally.

* The diocese has clarified the "reasonable cause" standard for the mandatory reporting of abuse to the police or the state Department of Social Services. It defines the phrase as meaning "that which would motivate a person of ordinary intelligence under the circumstances to believe, based on observations or conversations, that a child has been or is being abused."

*If after a prompt preliminary investigation, the diocese believes that a child or children are at risk of abuse, the suspected priest or deacon will be immediately removed from ministry, and civil authorities will be notified. Those steps have been diocesan policy since 1992. The diocese will now also routinely notify the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that ultimately approves any permanent canonical penalty against a cleric.

* Anonymous complaints will be referred to the appropriate civil authority.

* Allegations against a bishop in will be referred to Archbishop of Boston, who will notify the . The little-known national policy was part of the November 2002 "Statement of Episcopal Commitment" which applied the requirement of the national charter to bishops.

* Any variation from the policy's procedures for dealing with complaints, which may be allowed by "particular circumstances," will be documented. The documentation must describe the circumstances, and what alternative method was used to handle the allegation.

* The all-lay misconduct commission will include no member employed by the Diocese of Springfield.

* The misconduct commission will employ a professional investigator to help investigate complaints. Diocesan victims advocate Laura Failla Reilly told The Catholic Observer that the impending hiring of an investigator, most likely a retired law enforcement official who will work on an as-needed basis, will help address victims' complaints that the commission works too slowly.

* After an allegation is made, no priest or bishop may hear the sacramental confession of the accused. Canon law already prohibits priests from soliciting a confession from a sexual partner so that he can keep his involvement in an immoral action secret under the seal of the confessional.

* Priests placed on administrative leave will be informed of the duration of the leave, and what living and support arrangements will be established for them. They will also be advised to retain a canon lawyer, who may be provided by the diocese. The diocese may also financially support a suspended priest. This policy clarifies the bishop's obligation to his priests under canon law.

* Legal fees for accused clergy and lay church employees will be paid by the accused. But the diocese will reimburse the fees if the accused is found to be innocent, or if he or she "complied with the applicable policies." The diocese may also sue guilty parties to recover judgments and/or legal fees it had to pay because its employee acted improperly.

* The diocese will "work closely with the accused and the faith community to restore the trust and re-create pastoral and ministerial relationships" when an accusation turns out to be false.

The new misconduct policies will be reviewed and possibly revised in one year by a committee comprised of lay people with expertise in the fields of child welfare, law enforcement, psychiatry, social work, medicine and law. After that, they will be reviewed every two years.

Code of conduct

The new code of conduct for the diocese is the first document of its type for the entire diocese, although some of its provisions have long been written or unwritten expectations in some parts of the diocese.

Catholic school employees have for several years been briefed on a written procedure manual which regulates their behavior with children, sexual behavior and substance use while on school property. The schools have also had written guidelines on sexual harassment.

Written policies on sexual misconduct and harassment have also been a part of a personnel policy manual given to diocesan employees since 1995.

The new code of conduct now applies to all church employees, including those employed by parishes or other church institutions, and all church volunteers.

A one-page summary of the code, which all clerics and lay people connected to the church will be required to sign, says that agents of the church will "treat everyone with respect, loyalty, patience, integrity, courtesy, dignity and consideration."

They pledge to avoid situations where they are alone with children at church activities. They will "use positive reinforcement rather than criticism, competition, or comparison when working with children and/or youth."

The code also has several provisions to establish proper boundaries between minors and adults.

The new diocesan code of conduct will be integrated into a revised edition of the school manual handbook, which will be issued soon, according to Sister of Notre Dame Maureen Toomey, director of school personnel.

The complete text of the "Policy for the Protection of Children and Youth" and "Code of Conduct for Clergy, Administrators, Staff and Volunteers" have been posted on the diocesan Web site,


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