Diocese Moves Ahead on Child Protection Policy

By Chuck Moody
Pittsburgh Catholic [Pittsburgh PA]
July 29, 2004

The Diocese of Pittsburgh recently promulgated the policy "Safe Environments for Children."

This Safe Environments Policy became particular law and normative in all parishes and institutions as of July 1, 2004, and it is to be faithfully observed. Bishop Donald Wuerl approved the policy and directed that it be promulgated by Father Paul Bradley, diocesan general secretary, who has responsibility for its implementation.

The purpose of the policy, according to the general secretariat, "is to take reasonable measures to assure that church personnel who have regular contact with minors are committed to providing a safe environment for children and youth, are capable of identifying and preventing abuse of children and have no personal history of criminal abuse of children."

The various ways of creating a safe environment for children instituted by the diocese include:

* Child abuse and criminal clearances for clergy and all who have regular contact with children; * "Code of Pastoral Conduct" for all church personnel; and * VIRTUS Program, Protecting God's Children, for all clergy, staff and anyone who has regular contact with children.

All church personnel are to receive, be oriented in and return the signed "acknowledgment of receipt" page from the diocesan "Code of Pastoral Conduct." Church personnel are defined as "all persons, whether clergy, members of consecrated life, or laity, who, as employees or volunteers, act in the name of the church under the auspices of the Diocese of Pittsburgh or one of its parishes."

The "Code of Pastoral Conduct" outlines standards of behavior expected of all who act in the name of the church in the diocese. The code is also meant to offer support to those entrusted with the work of the church.

"This document is in the direct response to the call by the bishops of the United States in its 'Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People' to publish clearer standards of ministerial behavior for clergy and all other church personnel in positions of trust," Bishop Wuerl explains in his letter introducing the "Code of Pastoral Conduct."

"Although this code is intended to guide the conduct of the priests in service to this diocese in a special way, it also applies to deacons, members of consecrated life and lay members of the Christian faithful who assist in providing pastoral care," Bishop Wuerl states. "We all, as St. Paul reminds us, need to conduct ourselves in a holy and blameless fashion."

The diocesan Institute for Ministries is charged with the oversight of the Safe Environment Policy.

In regard to the status of implementation of the policy, Franciscan Sister Patricia Rogan, director of the diocesan Institute for Ministries, said the child abuse and criminal clearances for the most part have been completed by all clergy and those who have regular contact with children.

The "Code of Pastoral Conduct" has been distributed to all parishes.

"The implementation of Protecting God's Children began last August, with teachers in all of the schools, elementary and secondary," she said.

A number of ministers in parishes have participated in the program. The in-service sessions will continue to be scheduled by deaneries, and a list of the meetings is contained in this issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic.

"By December, all clergy, staff and those who have regular contact with children would have had the opportunity to participate in this program," Sister Patricia said.

The VIRTUS Program must be led by trained facilitators, and there have been some 80 facilitators trained in the diocese.

The Protecting God's Children program consists of many components. The education component helps prevent child sexual abuse by first making every adult employee and volunteer aware of the issues surrounding child sexual abuse. This includes awareness of the many ways sexual abuse harms its victims, their families, the parish and the community.

The awareness session also helps adults learn to recognize the warning signs of abuse, and shows them the appropriate way to respond to suspicious behavior. Finally, the awareness sessions, led by trained facilitators, empower each person with five steps to help prevent child sexual abuse.

The Safe Environment Policy pertains to those presently in ministry and to any person who enters ministry in the diocese in the future.

"The diocese is committed to do all possible to provide a safe environment for all children," Sister Patricia said.


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