Diocese of Tucson Continues Extensive Background Checks

By Maria Neider
KGUN [Tucson AZ]
September 14, 2004

Last year, in an effort to prevent any new cases of sexual misconduct with minors or adults, the Diocese of Tucson started an extensive screening program for clergy, parish employees and even volunteers. And after a year of screening *anyone* who has contact with children--- the diocese *did* end up eliminating people after the background check caught some red flags.

All day long, Irene Felix types form after form into a computer to run criminal background checks at the Diocese of Tucson Headquarters. To date, the diocese has screened more than two-thousand people who work and volunteer in its 75 parishes and schools. More than 1,500 ID forms have not been cleared yet.

Dr. Paul Duckro, Director of the Office of Child, Adolescent & Adult Protection for the Diocese of Tucson says many parishes are a little behind in finishing up their background checks. "I believe we're getting there. I remember I'd been here some months and somebody asked me, "What will you do if this doesn't work?" And I looked at him a long time and I said, "That's not an option."

Fingerprints are checked against criminal records. And computers check to see if a person's name appears on a list of sex offenders anywhere in the country. Priests and deacons must also pass a psychological exam.

In the past year, the screening caught 20 to 25 people who could potentially pose a risk to children. Most of those people were volunteers. Some were parish employees. None were priests.

"We haven't [found] any sex offenses, we have had some abuse problems, child abuse, spouse abuse and some [people had] a drug trafficking record," said Richard Serrano, Human Resources Director for the diocese.

When the background checks find red flags, Serrano says the diocese then notifies parish pastors of people who won’t be given clearance to work with children. No one with a record of sexual abuse will be accepted-- regardless of rehabilitation. "If a person has abused a minor in the past and has reformed their life, they are certainly welcome as a member of the church, but we cannot have that person minister. That is our commitment. The risk is too great," said Duckro.

The Diocese of Tucson estimates it could be another six months before they're caught up on the current paperwork-- but screening will continue for every new priest, employee or volunteer.


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