Catholic Review - Archdiocese of Baltimore [Baltimore MD]
April 21, 2021
By Christopher Gunty
The Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Independent Review Board that assists with child protection efforts released the fourth annual reports from the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection and the review board.
Archbishop William E. Lori initiated the reports in 2019, with reports from fiscal/reporting years 2017 and 2018 released within months of each other. Since then, the reports have been issued annually.
The latest report, which covers the reporting year from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, notes that the archdiocese was again, as every year, found by outside auditors to be in full compliance with standards set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its accompanying norms, as well as updates to those policies.
The report details efforts in education, employee and volunteer screening, reporting of allegations and outreach to victims.
The archdiocese educates church personnel on preventing, recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect. “All clergy, including bishops, all employees, and all volunteers having substantial contact with children at any covered entity of the Archdiocese of Baltimore are required to receive this training,” the OCYP report said, noting that 42,488 adults had received safe environment training in the reporting year.
Part of that included a special push within the Hispanic community to provide additional training in 2019, with more than 100 people receiving in-person training with a professional interpreter.
Jerri Burkhardt, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, said that in-person session was a new component. “The people were really engaged, and it was clear they saw the importance of child protection, education and all of our policies. The leaders in the Hispanic community saw it as something valuable for all of the children in the archdiocese, including those whose parents participated in Spanish, in Hispanic ministry, (and) children in that community.”
The archdiocese, through parishes, schools and religious education programs, also provides safe-environment training for children and youths. In the reporting year, 36,410 children and youth received safe environment education.
The report noted that when the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a shift to virtual learning for school and religious education classes, “the Office of Child and Youth Protection, in collaboration with the archdiocese’s Office of Marriage and Family Life and Division of Catholic Schools, created online materials to be used by schools and parishes to support parents in imparting child abuse prevention education to children.”
Burkhardt said, “When everyone went virtual, we stepped in and we provided this additional curriculum and that was available online.” The materials can continue to be used as a supplement for in-person classes.
All employees within the archdiocese and any volunteers who work with children are required to be screened for their fitness to work with minors. In the reporting year, 5,978 clergy, religious, and employees and 36,510 volunteers had been cleared to work with children after submitting to a criminal history screening, as of the end of the reporting year.
Burkhardt’s office also trains screening coordinators at sites including parishes and schools. While pastors and principals are primarily responsible for ensuring compliance with archdiocesan policies, screening coordinators on staff assist them in maintaining records that show the parish or school is complying.
“One of the benefits of working remotely is that we were able to conduct a lot more trainings in a really efficient way and travel throughout the whole the whole diocese” using videoconferencing and other virtual tools, Burkhardt said, noting that 43 training sessions for screening coordinators were conducted in the reporting year.
She also said that no matter what is going on in the world, the church needs to continue its focus on preventing child abuse. “This year, COVID and some other things have really been the focus of our attention. But the folks in the archdiocese and leaders in the archdiocese, at our parishes and schools and in Central Services, continue to really focus on child protection. We can’t ever take our eye off the ball.”
The Archdiocese of Baltimore strictly complies with Maryland laws requiring the reporting of suspected child abuse to civil authorities. Under Maryland law, any person who has reason to believe a child has been subjected to abuse must report the suspected abuse to civil authorities, even if the potential victim is now an adult and even if the alleged perpetrator is deceased, Burkhardt said.
If someone associated with the church including clergy, employees, or volunteers in the archdiocese, is suspected of committing abuse, archdiocesan policy requires that the suspected abuse also be reported to the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Office of Child and Youth Protection at 410-547-5348 or to the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Victims’ Assistance Line, staffed by a licensed social worker, at 866-417-7469.
The report also noted that the archdiocese makes reports to the local office of Child Protectives Services, the local office of the State’s Attorney, local police, and the Maryland Attorney General.
The report said that in the reporting year, “the archdiocese received allegations of child sexual abuse against 10 priests, which involved alleged incidents from many years ago, deceased priests, priests previously removed from ministry, and/or clergy who were not identified by the reporter. Some allegations were reports from third parties (i.e., not the alleged victim). All allegations were reported to law enforcement and the archdiocese cooperated with civil authorities.”
Other than clergy, in the reporting year, one employee serving in the archdiocese was accused of possible child sexual abuse and reported to civil authorities, which “ruled out” the allegation of abuse. “The employee is no longer working in the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” the report said.
In providing support and outreach to victim-survivors, the archdiocese paid $189,273 to provide counseling, therapy and other necessary medical costs for 41 survivors of child sexual abuse or their family members. The archdiocese also paid $529,000 in settlements with survivors of child sexual abuse, including eight voluntary settlements through its mediation program for time-barred claims where all of the incidents occurred more than 30 years ago, and one settlement where incidents with a lay teacher allegedly occurred in about 2005.
The report also noted that the archdiocese paid nearly $600,000 for its centralized child protection efforts, including salaries and expenses, training programs, and background checks that serve the archdiocese’s parishes, schools, clergy, employees and volunteers. Salaries, expenses, and training programs of the Archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection are part of the central budget of the archdiocese, supported by the cathedraticum paid by parishes. Background checks are paid through the archdiocese’s insurance program.
In its report, the Independent Review Board noted that the board met four times in the reporting year and reviewed 40 individual matters.
“The archdiocese has committed to report to the IRB all allegations of child sexual abuse involving church personnel of the archdiocese regardless of the age, details or credibility of the allegation,” the report noted.
It said that 16 of the matters were updates involving individuals who had already been reported to the board. Of the rest, 14 of the matters “involved alleged perpetrators whose names were unknown to the archdiocese, because the perpetrators were not named by the people who reported abuse. In many of those matters, the name of the victim-survivor was also not reported to the archdiocese.”
Burkhardt noted that the review board reviewed the transition in March 2020 to a national system from the third-party reporting system for allegations against bishops that had been implemented in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in January 2019. Since the IRB had been instrumental in helping the archdiocese develop and put in place the first third-party reporting system in the country, “they helped us kind of pave the way for how we handle those cases,” she said, and the board also commented and advised the archdiocese on the transition to the new national system.
During the reporting year, Ellen Heller, a retired judge, left the board, having served for 16 years. She was replaced by Alexander Wright Jr., a retired judge for the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. “She’s brilliant,” Burkhardt said of Heller, who brought professional and personal experience as well as the ability to ask tough questions. She said the archdiocese is fortunate to have someone of Wright’s caliber take Heller’s place.
For more information on the archdiocese’s child protection efforts, visit archbalt.org/accountability.
Read the latest report here.
Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org