The Diocese of Venice (“the Diocese”), which was established in 1984, encompasses 10 counties in southwest Florida. It consists of 54 parishes, four missions, 10 chapels, and three secondary and nine elementary schools, and it serves a population of 216,000 registered Catholics with 97 diocesan priests and 71 deacons. The Most Reverend John J. Nevins, installed as bishop in 1984 has led the Diocese since its formation. A compliance audit of the Diocese was conducted during the period of October 13-17, 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.
FindingsTo Promote Healing and Reconciliation
The Diocese has had a prevention policy on sexual abuse of minors since 1986 and revised it in 1995 and 2003. This policy provides for an outreach program designed to provide immediate pastoral care to victims and their families. A Commendation was written recognizing the longstanding policy. The Diocese has a victim assistance minister, Beverly Zeiss, a former chaplain and registered nurse with a doctorate in pastoral counseling. A lay review board, established in 1995, consists of three clergy and five respected members of the community, including a retired judge, a retired police officer, and a psychologist. The procedures for making a complaint of abuse are readily available in printed and electronic form. The Diocese has entered into no confidentiality agreements since June 2002.
To Guarantee Effective Response to Allegations of Abuse of a Minor
The Diocese has had little contact with local civil authorities regarding sexual abuse allegations, because no allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been reported to the Diocese since June 2002. Its policy, however, provides for immediate reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to the appropriate authorities. The Diocese does have a procedure for advising victims/survivors who are now adults 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 volunteers but does not have a code of conduct for clergy or employees who have contact with children. An Instruction was written addressing this deficiency. The Diocese has a communications policy, reflecting the bishop’s 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 developed and updated its own series of safe environment seminars for presentation to adults having regular contact with children and has an outstanding series of educational programs for the children in all grade levels. This series of programs has been in effect since 1984, except for a one-year period when the Diocese tried the VIRTUS program. A Commendation was issued for the Diocese’s efforts in ensuring an excellent training program for adults and children alike. As mentioned above, the Diocese has publicized standards of conduct for volunteers, but not for priests/deacons and other church personnel in positions of trust who have regular contact with children and young people. The Diocese has completed background investigations on all members of the clergy and all diocesan and parish personnel who have regular contact with minors and has been doing so since 1994. 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 the 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 in the selection of candidates for ordination; however, its ongoing formation program lacks continuity and was fragmented. A Recommendation was written regarding this issue.
Compliance with the Provisions of the CharterAt the conclusion of this audit, the Diocese of Venice was issued one Instruction, one Recommendation, and one Commendation.
INSTRUCTION—The Diocese should formulate, publicize, and distribute a code of conduct for priests, pastoral ministers, administrators, other clergy, and employees and have these individuals signify receipt.
RECOMMENDATION—That the Diocese develop a formal program outlining mandatory events and sessions of education addressing topics to enhance and educate all diocesan priests as part of ongoing formation; and that the identity of the director of continuing education should be reiterated to the diocesan clergy.
COMMENDATION—For the Diocese’s continued and timely dedication to the ongoing improvement of policies for the protection of children and young people, and for its exemplary Safeguard Environment program, in use since 1984.
As of December 1, 2003, the above Instruction and Recommendation had been addressed. The Diocese of Venice is found to be compliant with the provisions of the Charter as measured by the process described in Chapter 2 in Section I.
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