Audit Finds Diocese Fully Compliant with Charter

By Kathrynne Skonicki
Catholic Explorer [Illinois]
January 12, 2006

ROMEOVILLE - The Gavin Group, Inc., recently notified the Joliet Diocese that it was found to be in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People during its 2005 audit. The independent auditing firm commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops found the diocese to be in compliance with the bishops' document in 2004 and 2003 as well.

In June 2002, the U.S. bishops approved the charter, a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts of abuse. The charter also contained mandates for an audit and annual report in order to form a two-fold process of accountability for the implementation of the charter in each diocese, explained Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the USCCB Office of Child Protection.

The process involves auditors asking a series of questions that ascertain what structures, procedures or processes are in place within the diocese to fulfill the charter. The auditors request materials that demonstrate compliance such as examples of publicized standards of ministerial behavior.

"The charter has not changed from year-to-year, but the information requested has changed to correlate with the maturing of the charter-related programs within the diocese," commented Kettelkamp. She offered an example of the safe environment programs mandated in the charter. Prior audits asked only if the diocese had safe environment programs and now they are collecting information on how many children have had safe environment training.

The first two annual audits have shown a common response of compliancy to the charter throughout the nation. The first audits in 2003 found 89 percent of dioceses in full compliance, while the 2004 audits declared 96 percent of the dioceses as being in full compliance.

The 2005 audit summaries and information from a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., are expected to be released in mid-April, according to Kettelkamp. Those dioceses found not in compliance are also slated to be named in an annual report released at the same time.

"All of us have the responsibility to protect children and youth from abuse," commented Franciscan Sister Judith Davies, chancellor of the diocese. In the last few years the diocese has taken several actions to protect children, including updating policies regarding the sexual abuse of minors, designating a victim assistance minister and mandating all diocesan employees and volunteers who have contact with minors to participate in a safe environment program.

The 2005 audit of the Joliet Diocese was a more focused audit than previous years, according to Sister Davies. The auditor, who visited the diocese Sept. 19-22, centered on the compliance with articles 12 and 13 of the charter - calling for safe environment programs and background screenings. Nationwide, those were the two areas of common deficiencies in the 2004 audits of 194 dioceses.

Article 12 of the charter mandated that dioceses establish a safe environment program that would educate and train children, youth, parents, ministers, educators and others about protecting children. Since 2002, the diocese has implemented several safe environment programs for children and adults. More than 66,000 parents, ministers, educators, employees and volunteers have participated in Virtus' Protecting God's Children program. In mid-December 2005, the diocese calculated that over 51,200 children in Catholic schools and religious education programs had participated in a safe environment program.

"The number of adults who have participated in the Protecting God's Children program as well as the number of those who have had their backgrounds checked are significant evidence that the Joliet Diocese has taken great steps to ensure a safe environment for children," stated Sister Davies.

More than 26,000 adults have undergone a criminal background investigation, according to Sister Davies. Article 13 of the charter instructed dioceses to evaluate the background of all diocesan employees and parish personnel who have regular contact with children.

"But it is important to keep in mind that the charter mandates much more than safe environment training and background checks. There are articles on cooperating with civil authorities, outreach to victims, open and transparent communication, et cetera," added Kettelkamp.

She pointed out that the country is safer as a result of the Catholic Church's current efforts to protect children. Over the last three years, more than 1.425 million adults and 3.14 million children have received safe environment training that extends to better protection utilized in many other facets of their lives.

Kettelcamp concluded, "The current efforts of the Catholic Church with the charter are an excellent reminder to all that a child's life is very fragile, that it should be treated with care and we, as adults, are responsible for keeping children safe. Additionally, may we always reach out to victims with compassion and care as Christ would do."

The formalized effort by the Catholic Church to increase the safety of children is scheduled to continue for a few years. In June 2005, the U.S. bishops voted to extend the charter for another five years, which also extended the annual audits and reports.


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