The Diocese of Helena (“the Diocese”), originally established in 1884 to cover the entire state of Montana, was redefined to encompass 21 counties in the western and north central part of the state. It consists of 97 parishes and missions, four pastoral centers, and four elementary and two high schools. It serves a population of about 68,000 registered Catholics with 34 deacons and 91 diocesan priests. The Very Reverend Kevin O’Neill was designated apostolic administrator on August 1, 2003, when Bishop Robert C. Morlino was transferred to Madison, Wisconsin. A compliance audit of the Diocese was conducted during the period of October 20-24, 2003.
The information presented below represents conditions as they were found to exist during the week of the audit. Information regarding necessary corrective actions taken by the Diocese subsequent to the audit will be found in the last paragraph.
To Promote Healing and Reconciliation
The Diocese has had a prevention policy on sexual abuse of minors since 1993. Revised in June 2003, this policy provides for an outreach program designed to provide immediate pastoral care to victims/survivors and their families. The Diocese is currently utilizing the chancellor, Kevin Phelan, as the victim assistance coordinator; however, recognizing that having a separate coordinator would be a more prudent approach, the Diocese is in the process of identifying and interviewing outside candidates for this role. A diocesan review board, established in 2002, consists of six respected members of the community, including a psychologist and a priest. The procedures for making a complaint of abuse are readily available in printed form. The Diocese has entered into no confidentiality agreements since June 2002, unless requested by the victim/survivor.
To Guarantee Effective Response to Allegations of Abuse of a Minor
The Diocese has had limited contact with local civil authorities regarding sexual abuse allegations, because only one credible allegation has been reported to the Diocese since June 2002. In that case, the Diocese did contact and work with local civil authorities. The policy, however, provides for immediate reporting of allegations to the appropriate authorities. The Diocese does have a procedure for advising victims/survivors of their right to report allegations of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy to civil authorities. The Diocese has established a clear and well-publicized code of conduct for priests and deacons. The Diocese has a communications policy reflecting the diocesan pledge to be open and transparent on issues regarding the sexual abuse of children.
To Ensure Accountability of Procedures
The Diocese has participated in the research study regarding the “nature and scope” of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
To Protect the Faithful in the Future
The Diocese has selected and implemented a series of safe environment seminars through VIRTUS for presentation to adults having regular contact with children, and an aggressive training schedule is in place. The training of children was not yet consistent or complete, as the Diocese was awaiting the development of children’s programs by VIRTUS. A Recommendation was issued suggesting close monitoring of the training schedule and continuous contact with VIRTUS regarding the training for children. As mentioned above, the Diocese has publicized standards of conduct for priests and deacons, as well as diocesan employees, volunteers, and any other church personnel in positions of trust who have regular contact with children and young people. The Diocese has begun background investigations on all members of the clergy and all other diocesan employees and volunteers who have contact with children; however, this policy was not put in place until October 2003. A Recommendation was written for background checks of all priests to be completed by mid-November 2003 and to have all other background evaluations completed as soon as possible. The Diocese has not transferred any priests or deacons who have had credible allegations of sexual abuse lodged against them to any other diocese for ministerial assignment or residence since June 2002. The bishop and two major superiors of orders having a presence in the Diocese have coordinated their respective roles regarding issues of allegations of sexual abuse made against a cleric member of a religious institute. The Diocese has not had an opportunity to cooperate with other churches, religious bodies, and institutions of learning in conducting research in the area of sexual abuse of minors. The Diocese has established screening and evaluative techniques for the selection of candidates for ordination and established programs of priestly formation.
Compliance with the Provisions of the Charter
At the conclusion of this audit, the Diocese of Helena was issued two Recommendations.
RECOMMENDATION 1—That the Diocese closely monitor the training schedule to ensure that all parents, educators, volunteers, and clergy who have regular contact with children are trained quickly, and that the Diocese maintain close contact with the training provider to ensure that the new programs for children are obtained and used as soon as possible.
RECOMMENDATION 2—That background evaluations be completed for priests and other religious men and women immediately, and that background evaluations on adults who have regular contact with children be conducted as soon as practical.
As of December 1, 2003, Recommendation 2 had been addressed. In terms of Recommendation 1, the Diocese of Helena is compliant with safe environment training directed towards all diocesan priests, religious order priests, religious brothers and sisters, deacons, employees of the Diocese, parishes, or church institutions, and volunteers who work primarily with children. The Diocese has contracted with VIRTUS for age-appropriate training for children. This program will be available in the first half of 2004, and the Diocese has committed to an aggressive rollout schedule when the training materials become available. When this process is in place, the Diocese will be fully compliant with Article 12.
The compliance audit measured activity that has occurred since the adoption of the Charter in June 2002 with the exception of certain mandated actions found in Articles 5 and 14. Actions taken by the diocese/eparchy prior to June 2002 to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons are not included in this summary report.
Office of Child and Youth Protection
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194
(202) 541-5413 | FAX: (202) 541-5410