Chicago Heights Native Works to Protect Children from Abuse
By Erin Gallagher
March 25, 2016
|Archbishop Blase Cupich recently appointed Mary Jane Doerr, a Chicago Heights native, to the archdiocese’s highest post that protects children from sexual abuse, director of the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth. (Courtesy photo)|
Protecting Roman Catholic children from sexual predators is a full-time job for this Chicago Heights native.
As the newly-appointed Archdiocese of Chicago's director of the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, Mary Jane Doerr has a candid, but optimistic view of the challenges she faces.
"We know we are working for the dark side of the church, but we are the ones shining light on it," Doerr said.
Doerr, 62, oversees three offices within the archdiocese, including the Assistance Ministry Office, which provides support for victims of sexual abuse and their families. She encourages people who have been victims to come forward, because "it's never too late," she said.
"The archdiocese wants to hear their stories and support their health and wellness," Doerr said. "That's an important part of this ministry."
Workers in the office have served more than 500 victims and their families and "they are very good at it," she said. Taking the ministry in a new direction, they are helping victims rejoin the church, a process they call "helping them find a place in the pew."
Also under Doerr's purview is the Safe Environment Office, which is in charge of educating clergy, school faculty, and volunteers to recognize grooming behaviors. Over 190,000 adults have completed a proactive training program.
"We are doing something concrete to prevent child sexual abuse," she said. "We are creating that hedge of protection."
The third area Doerr oversees is the Child Abuse Investigation and Review Office. Suspected victims go through a "compassionate and thorough" process so they will not have to keep repeating their stories, Doerr said. The group works with child advocacy centers and the national non-profit group, Prevent Child Abuse America.
In conjunction with Prevent Child Abuse America, the archdiocese will host a pinwheel planing on April 15 in the Healing Garden at Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, which supports abuse prevention.
"I have absolutely the best job in the world," Doerr said. "It's the most important job I've had outside parenting my own children."
If growing up one of 12 children in her family did not help guide her toward helping others, the last stop on her resume might have.. Before Archbishop Blase J. Cupich appointed her to this position, she was the associate director in the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She also has served as the safe environment coordinator for the Diocese of Kalamazoo for five years.
"We are pleased to have attracted a national leader in child protection in the Archdiocese of Chicago," said Cupich in a statement.
Doerr said she is pleased to be back in the Chicago area.
[en Cardinal Joseph Bernadin ordered an investigation and study of child sexual abuse within the diocese. Subsequently, Doerr's post was created, though organized differently under a different name. That all occurred a full decade before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Charter for The Protection of Children and Young People, which is a "comprehensive set of procedures … for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy," according to http:]
The charter was established in June, 2002 after the January 2002 Boston Globe investigation reports into allegations of widespread child abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area.
"The church did a very poor job of addressing the issue," Doerr said about the past.
Today, she tells a different story. The Archdiocese of Chicago has about 700 diocesan priests, including those who are retired. There are other religious orders, such as the Carmelites, Franciscans and Dominicans, who are not considered archdiocesan priests, she said.
"No priest with a substantiated case of abuse is in ministry in the archdiocese, no archdiocesan priest," Doerr said.
Erin Gallagher is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.