Audit commends diocesan policies to prevent abuse
The Diocese of Rochester fared well in a September 2015 audit of its compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Not only did auditors from the independent auditing firm Stonebridge Business Partners find the diocese in complete compliance with the charter, but the auditors also praised the diocese for several new steps taken in the past year, according to Father Daniel Condon, diocesan chancellor.
"We are in compliance. We've never not been in compliance," Father Condon noted.
The Diocese of Rochester and most other dioceses in the country have undergone independent audits each year since 2003 in order to gauge their compliance with the charter, which is a set of procedures the USCCB adopted in 2002 in response to allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter required dioceses to follow specific guidelines when responding to allegations of the sexual abuse of minors, implement safe-environment programs and develop codes of conduct for clerics, employees and volunteers.
"Some dioceses had taken some of those reforms earlier than others," Father Condon said, noting that the Diocese of Rochester had put some of these elements, such as a review board and a victims' assistance coordinator, in place as early as 1993.
After the USCCB promulgated the charter in 2002, the Diocese of Rochester added individuals with law-enforcement experience to its review board and strengthened its relationships with law-enforcement officials throughout the diocese's 12 counties, according to a recent diocesan statement. After the charter's promulgation in 2002 the diocese also:
* reviewed past cases and, when appropriate, removed offenders from public ministry;
* strengthened the screening process for men applying to priestly and diaconal formation programs;
* instituted background checks for clerics, educators, employees and volunteers who would work with children and vulnerable adults;
* developed codes of conduct and educated employees and volunteers about their applicability in specific settings;
* publicized contact information for the diocesan victims' assistance coordinator and offered training on the process of reporting allegations; and
* encouraged victims to report to civil authorities and seek assistance.
Each year since 2003, auditors engaged by the USCCB look at dioceses' compliance with each component of the charter, Father Condon said. The auditors look, for example, to see how often the review board meets, whether the diocese communicates with law enforcement, trains volunteers, and screens applicants to seminary and diaconal-formation programs. The results from each diocese are compiled in an annual report on charter implementation, which is published on the USCCB's website, www.usccb.org.
"This time (the auditors) had commended us for some of the actions of the past year," Father Condon noted.
The auditors praised the diocese for:
* requiring all parishes to have a program coordinator to ensure training and background checks are being conducted;
* creating a badge system to ensure all volunteer athletic coaches have received safe-environment training;
* establishing a formal parish audit program to ensure CASE compliance;
* requiring CASE training and background checks be renewed every three years;
* the availability of online CASE training as well as live-instructor training;
* updating codes of conduct and safe-environment policies; and
* creating a CASE newsletter to communicate safety information to diocesan and parish employees and volunteers, and to maintain awareness.
Bishop Salvatore R. Matano has joined with Pope Francis and his fellow bishops around the world in expressing deep sorrow for the tragedy of child sexual abuse.
"As the Shepherd of this Diocese, I will continue to work unceasingly to ensure that our parishes, schools and every entity connected to our Diocese are safe and holy environments for all," Bishop Matano said in the diocesan statement.
He is joined by other diocesan officials, who work hard to ensure parishes and diocesan institutions remain in compliance with the USCCB's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and protecting those young people in its care, Father Condon said.
"People have reasonable expectations about the standards for church employees and clerics, and that church should be a safe place," he explained. "People don't expect to be harmed at church."
Bishop Matano encouraged any individuals who have had those expectations dashed to report their possible abuse.
"It is my fervent prayer that any person who has been harmed by a person in a position of trust and authority within our Church will find the spiritual and emotional healing they deserve. To that end, I encourage those who were victimized to please contact our victims' advocacy office where, I know, you will be received as a son or daughter of God," Bishop Matano said in the statement.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Victims of abuse always are encouraged to report to civil authorities. To report a case of possible sexual abuse and receive help and guidance from the Diocese of Rochester, victims should contact the victims' assistance coordinator, Deborah Housel, at 585-328-3228, ext. 1555, or toll-free at 1-800-388-7177, ext. 1555. Housel also may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.