Within the next year, all diocesan employees will be retrained on the diocesan sexual-abuse policy using a new online program called Safe and Sacred.
Although the retraining is timely in light of continuing public focus on sexual-abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church, the new training program has been two years in the making, said Barbara Pedeville, diocesan victims’ assistance coordinator and director of management and staff services.
Employees of the Diocesan Pastoral Center participated in a successful pilot of Safe and Sacred in May and June, Pedeville said, and the program has been available throughout the diocese since mid-July. It will be used to train new employees and to retrain current employees on how to recognize and respond to signs of neglect and emotional, physical and sexual abuse.
Pedeville said one goal of the training is to help protect children and vulnerable adults within and outside the church setting by helping people recognize signs of abuse. Diocesan policy requires employees and volunteers to report to supervisors and diocesan authorities any suspected abuse within a church or by a church employee or volunteer.
"The focus of this program is the safety of children in all parts of society, because sexual abuse of children takes place outside of the church more frequently than inside it," she said.
"We need to create a welcoming and safe environment for everyone within our church by building trust in our church leaders," Pedeville said.
Those who will be required to take the new online program are: priests, deacons, seminarians, aspirants to the diaconate, men living at Becket Hall (the diocesan house for priestly discernment), all and employees of the diocese — including parishes, schools and affiliates — hired before January 2008 or since April 1, 2010. Training or retraining for employees hired between January 2008 and April 2010 will take place in the future, Pedeville said.
Volunteers will continue to be trained using the Creating a Safe Environment program offered in parish and school settings, she said.
One advantage of the new training program is that its online delivery makes it immediately available to new employees in all 12 counties of the diocese, said Rick Long, director of human resources for diocesan Catholic schools. The format also will reduce employees’ travel expenses and time spent away from the job for training.
Pedeville noted that people can go at their own pace during the training and review the material as many times as necessary. The program is estimated to take about an hour to complete, and a quiz at the end of the program tests user comprehension. Employees who do not get satisfactory scores will review the material again and retake the quiz.
Employees also are required to review the diocese’s Code of Pastoral Conduct and check the statement acknowledging that they understand and accept the code’s expectations. All prospective employees currently undergo background checks before being hired within the diocese, and Pedeville said the diocese is currently determining when to implement updated background checks on current employees. She said the online training program also will automatically generate a searchable database of all employees who have completed all these steps, she said.
Pedeville noted that one of the disadvantages of an online program is that people don’t have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions or seek clarifications of the material presented, and she encouraged participants to contact her office with any questions they may have about the training.
The retraining program is part of an effort by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Office of Child and Youth Protection to require U.S. dioceses and archdioceses to provide training and periodic retraining for all staff working with children, teens or vulnerable adults.
In an effort to bring awareness and education to all of its employees, priests and deacons, the Diocese of Rochester in 1993 developed its current child-protection program, which was approved by the National Office of Child and Youth Protection, Pedeville said. The program was expanded in 2003 to include all diocesan, parish and school volunteers working with children, teens and vulnerable adults. Approximately 26,000 employees and volunteers have been trained.
Pedeville noted that the church’s continuing, nationwide training effort could help create safer environments for millions of children.
"Statistics tell us that children who report abuse and it is handled immediately have less long-range effects than those who have not reported it for many years," she said.
Long said employees should keep in mind that the retraining is not just an exercise.
"These are real-life people and real life situations," he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Victims of abuse should always report to the civil authorities. To report a case of possible sexual abuse, and to receive help and guidance from the Diocese of Rochester, victims are encouraged to contact Barbara Pedeville, the diocesan victims’ assistance coordinator, at 585-328-3228, ext. 1215, 1-800-388-7177, ext. 1215, or firstname.lastname@example.org.