Safety for Our Children and Youth Remains a Priority

Photo of Bishop Edward M. Rice with students from St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School

“Based on the results of our recent site audit of the Diocese of Springfield – Cape Girardeau, the diocese has been found compliant with all audited Articles within the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’ for the audit period of July 1, 2019 through March 31, 2022.”

That is the opening of the compliance letter from Stonebridge Business Partners, a company that specializes in compliance auditing and fraud and forensics services for government agencies, contractors, and institutions such as Catholic dioceses. As I’ve stated many times, it is imperative, not just an obligation, that all the (arch)dioceses of the United States must comply to what is commonly referred to as the “Dallas Charter,” “The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” established by the USCCB in June 2002 to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. Over the course of the past two decades, however, allegations have also come to light in other religious denominations, in schools, scouts, in the world of sports, Olympic and university athletic programs, and in the entertainment industry. USA Today recently did an investigation of a Branson-based evangelical sports camp with rampant abuse. This serves as a reminder of why this work is so important for all of us in all facets of society.

While we were found to be compliant, the management letter that accompanied the compliance letter offered suggestions as to stay the course and improve, such as the implementation of a policy for renewing safe environment training for all volunteers, the implementation of a formal process to conduct in-person visits to all parish and school locations to review documentation, and to enhance the procedures for the monitoring and relocation of accused clergy for residence.

We must also avoid any fatigue when it comes to our efforts at protecting children and young people. Sometimes people will say, “Do we really have to do this?” or “What difference is this going to make?” or “Haven’t we done enough?” When we start asking such questions, we are reflecting the “fatigue” that can often accompany this important work. Yes, it requires resources and time and energy from each one of us, but that is the only way we can restore trust in the Catholic Church, her priests and her institutions. We must be hyper-vigilant in this area. We are talking about the protection of students who have been entrusted to our schools and young people that come to our parishes for Mass and spiritual activities. Not to mention all the “public” events and activities each of our parishes and missions undertake in our local communities: garage sales, chili suppers, fairs, retreats, etc. Because of that, our parishes must be safe havens and every adult must do his or her part to say something if one sees something out of sorts.

Once again, I express my gratitude to Mr. Bill Holtmeyer, Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, along with Rosie Francka, Associate Safe Environment Coordinator for their dedicated diligence in this area. Rosie, by the way, is retiring later this year, and the diocese owes her a debt of gratitude for her dedicated service, especially to our young people. It is a difficult but essential work and, in a sense, the work will never be done. There is a generation of people that need to be heard, believed, and healed from abuse of all kinds, not just at the hands of the Church. And from there, we must extend the healing that is needed for families who have experienced trauma caused by such abuse.

Since 2002 and the Dallas Charter, there have been many updates and revisions that now address vulnerable adults, mandatory reporting, and the consequences for those who have failed to act or report incidents of “red flag” behaviors, or abuse, or harassment. Recently, the Vatican issued a procedure to address the failure of bishops in these areas specifically. These developments illustrate that we must be tireless in this effort and to avoid the “fatigue” that can often occur.

As I bring this column to an end, the good news is we are in compliance with the Charter, we continually strive to do more and improve while we continue to do all we can for the protection of children and youth. What could be more important than to attend to the needs and wellness of our people: spiritually, physically, emotionally, through the safeguards of awareness, safety, vigilance, and procedure?