Audit Finds San Angelo Diocese in Compliance

By Brian Bethel
Abilene Reporter-News

September 27, 2008

The Catholic Diocese of San Angelo is, for the fifth year in a row, in complete compliance with requirements issued in 2002 to protect children from sexual abuse.

The yearly audit was conducted by the independent auditing group, William Gavin, in Winthrop, Mass. An auditor from Gavin spent almost a week reviewing the diocese.

The effort is designed to provide a "safe, healthy and sacred environment for all of our people, especially our children," said Bishop Michael Pfeifer, whose diocese oversees 29 counties in West Texas, including Abilene churches.

"I think we're into a good pattern," Pfeifer said.

The recent history of sexual abuse within the church served as a wake-up call to Catholicism's bishops, Pfeifer said. Although the results varied from diocese to diocese, protecting children became an imperative, he said.

"Some things had to change; some things had to be made better," he said. "We can do our best to make those who serve are called to live by the highest moral standards."

The recent safe environment audit found the diocese in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, originally issued by bishops in 2002 and revised in 2005.

Background checks, as well as education, including courses for parents and children, are important tools in securing the safety of children, Pfeifer said.

According to the charter, dioceses are to evaluate the backgrounds of priests and deacons who are engaged in ecclesiastical ministry and of all diocesan and parish/school or other paid personnel and volunteers whose duties include ongoing, unsupervised contact with minors.

In addition, dioceses are to employ adequate screening and evaluative techniques in deciding the fitness of candidates for ordination.

Pfeifer said he was pleased with the audit's results but that he is not content to rest upon the diocese's laurels.

"We must continue to work together and invite other agencies of society, to assist with eliminating the prevalent sexual abuse, especially of children, in our society," he said. "We can't let down our guard."

There is a new awareness of the issues of abuse throughout society, Pfeifer said. Most sexual abuse happens in the home, meaning groups that work with children have "much work to do on the family level."

Six years ago when the charter was established, Pfeifer's friends from other churches came to offer their support to him, he said. Many admitted at the time that sexual abuse can be and has been an issue in their own congregations.

"There is more awareness among honest and sincere leaders of other religions," he said, describing the issue as something "we need to work on together."

In the future, the diocese will look at each parish more intensely, Pfeifer said, in an effort to maintain and strengthen its existing protections.

"Where the rubber meets the road is in the churches," he said.


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