Local Diocese 1 of Just 2 in U.S. to Balk at Audit on Child Safety

By Cindy Powers
The Bulletin
March 14, 2009

Bishop Robert Vasa

An annual report released Friday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shows the Diocese of Baker was one of two dioceses in the country that declined to participate in a nationwide audit of child safety practices.

Bishop Robert Vasa, who heads the diocese, said he did not participate because he believes teaching young children about sexual predators instills fear in them.

“I refuse to implement programs in our schools or our CCD program that are directed at somehow trying to empower kids to keep themselves safe,” said Vasa, referring to the religious education program. “Because predators are bigger, smarter and much more determined than the children ever will be.”

The annual report on the “Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” is mandated by the conference of bishops and is one of the reforms adopted in 2002 at the height of the priest abuse scandal. It showed an increase last year in the number of molestation claims against Catholic clergy, many of which were decades old.

The 2008 report states that the Diocese of Baker, which covers Eastern and Central Oregon and is headquartered in Bend, does not provide “safe environment” training for children as a matter of policy, so therefore was refusing to participate in the audit.

The diocese was one of two dioceses and five eparchies that refused to participate in the annual review. An eparchy is similar to a diocese, according the conference’s Web site.

Vasa says he declined because the “safe environment” training required by the bishops’ child protection policies involves teaching children to look for sexual predators.

“I refuse to train children, but the parents are being trained,” he said.

Vasa said it is the job of parents and caregivers to keep children safe from sex abusers.

Toward that end, Vasa said he worked with the Catholic Medical Association to create a six-hour training program called “Healthy families, Safe children.”

“I have expended more time and energy in terms of this issue than any other bishop in the country,” he said.

Vasa said that the church’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, upon which the annual audit is based, states that it is up to the bishop to decide what training programs to implement in each diocese.

“(The Archdiocese of Baker is) training every employee, and we do a criminal background check on everyone who works with children or has any attachment to children,” he said.

The church has audited the Baker Diocese in the past, Vasa said, and found it compliant with the Charter, other than teaching children about identifying abusive behavior.

“They have come here and audited me twice and everything is fine with the exception of this area,” he said. “I don’t need them to spend $8,000 to $10,000 to come in and tell me the diocese is out of compliance.”

The nationwide review found that all but one of the dioceses evaluated had fully implemented the bishops’ child protection policies by the end of 2008, according to The Associated Press. Like the Baker Diocese, the review showed that Tulsa, Okla., had not completed the mandated training for children.

Auditors also found that dioceses spent $23 million on safety programs in 2008, according to the AP report, and that abuse claims in 2008 increased 16 percent over 2007, when 691 claims were made.

The bishops are rotating which dioceses receive an on-site review each year, so that each diocese is visited every three years.


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