By Maryellen Quinn
“Spotlight,” this year’s Academy Award best movie, gives a voice to the victims of sexual abuse and the members of the Church who raise the question, “What is the Diocese of Brooklyn doing today to protect our children and vulnerable adults?”
To understand what the Diocese of Brooklyn is doing, one needs to understand the actions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that established The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a comprehensive set of procedures to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts of abuse. Every diocese in the country is audited for charter compliance. The Diocese of Brooklyn was found to be fully compliant with the charter every year since the process began in 2003 when the diocese created the Safe Environment Office to ensure compliance. The Safe Environment Office is responsible for sexual abuse awareness training of children and adults, creation of the Diocesan Code of Conduct, and conducting background checks for all employees and volunteers over the age of 18.
In a diocese as large as Brooklyn, complying with the charter is no easy task! Our diocese enlists the help of our pastors, principals, directors of faith formation and parish-level safe environment coordinators to ensure all programs in all parishes are monitored and are operating within the guidelines of the charter. Any adult who has contact with children in our programs, schools and academies must submit to an ongoing background search. The practice of ongoing background searches is necessary to provide the best protection from predators gaining access to our children. Signing the Diocesan Code of Conduct is also required by all those who have contact with children, giving them behavioral guidelines when ministering to children and vulnerable adults.
Every child in our parishes’ faith formation programs, schools and academies are trained using the Child Lures Prevention Program. This program teaches children strategies to keep themselves safe from people who may try to harm them in any way. Young people, ages 14 -17, who attend a parish faith formation program or volunteer in a parish are required to participate in the online safety awareness training, Shield the Vulnerable. Every adult who has contact with the children in our programs, schools and academies must attend a Virtus “Protecting God’s Children” session which teaches them to recognize the signs of predatory behavior in other adults and the signs of abuse in children.
Children are our most precious resource. No child or adult should ever experience abuse by anyone. We all have the right to be treated with dignity and to expect our Church to reflect the goodness of God. During the past 13 years, we have learned that, through education and working together as a community, we can create safe boundaries for our children. We know that talking about sexual abuse is not easy. However, to prevent abuse, everyone must be aware of the signs of abuse and appropriately report them immediately. We must control who has access to our children. By raising awareness of sexual abuse in our communities, the Catholic Church is working to protect all of our children and vulnerable adults.
In our ever-changing world which includes the Internet and social media, we must be mindful and attentive to the present risk factors that face our children. We must be prepared to make changes to our policies and procedures when the needs arise. The Diocese of Brooklyn takes seriously the responsibility of protecting our children and vulnerable adults. We, the Church, must continue to acknowledge our responsibility and remain ever vigilant to the task.