Archdiocese of New York Investigation: Laity Needs Annual Re-Certification

News: US News
by Anita Carey  •  •  October 1, 2019   

Team hired by Cdl. Timothy Dolan recommends laity submit to annual safe environment training

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NEW YORK ( - To further protect children, the independent investigation of the archdiocese of New York is recommending annual safe environment training for parents and volunteers at archdiocesan schools.

After a year-long investigation, the lead investigator of the archdiocese of New York, retired federal judge Barbara S. Jones found they are meeting their obligations to stop sexual abuse of children.

"I am encouraged by what I've seen," Jones said at a press conference on Monday. "I have confidence that the archdiocese will continue in the commitment that it has demonstrated thus far to the safety of children."

To restore confidence in the Church hierarchy, New York's Cdl. Timothy Dolan hired Jones in September 2018 to lead an independent investigation into the archdiocese's handling of allegations of abuse. In addition, Jones would review archdiocesan policies on schools, seminaries and workplace sexual harassment.

The Wall Street Journal reported Cdl. Dolan promised Jones would have access to everything down to the parish level, and she claimed she did at the press conference.

Jones said every priest that was accused of abusing a minor was removed from ministry.

"Cardinal Dolan accepts the Board's recommendation and has never returned a cleric to ministry against whom there has been a substantiated complaint," Jones said.

Jones made several recommendations for the archdiocese to improve, including updating to electronic recordkeeping and case management. Additionally, Jones recommended:

  • The creation of a job to oversee the response to sexual abuse complaints
  • Updated investigative techniques to ensure thoroughness
  • Update the agreement with the New York-area district attorneys to include abuse of non-consenting adults and those committed by employees and volunteers

Jones also recommended that the laity be subjected to annual re-certification of safe environment training.

Safe Environment Programs at Bishops' Discretion

According to Article 12 of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, also called the Dallas Charter, dioceses are required to maintain "safe environment" programs the "bishop deems to be in accord with Catholic moral principles."

Theodore McCarrick's predation and abuse exposed in June 2018 revealed a number of weaknesses in the Dallas Charter he helped to establish. He deliberately diluted the protections the Dallas Charter called for to protect himself and the other bishops and removed all protections for people over the age of 18, including seminarians.

The majority of the safe environment programs used were created by insurance companies operated by the Catholic Church.

Screenshot from Protecting God's Children

One of them, The National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc., a nonprofit insurance company owned by 58 U.S. Catholic dioceses and religious institutes, created VIRTUS, Protecting God's Children and Protecting All Children for Adults that are used across the country.

When first rolled out, many Catholics criticized the program for its three-hour length and the disturbing content it contained.

Others criticized it for containing information that would destroy the innocence of children and strip away parental rights. They were horrified that most of the recommended readings were endorsed by Planned Parenthood.

That outrage prompted Bp. Robert Vasa of the diocese Santa Rosa, California, to issue a statement demanding answers before he would endorse the use of the safe environment program.

"For holding to this conviction I and the diocese may be declared negligent, weighed and found wanting," he wrote.

VIRTUS also created a model for a Code of Conduct that amounts to little more than a list of dos and don'ts with little-to-no emphasis on Catholic morality.

The section on chastity is devoid of all Catholic morality on the subject, saying only, "Clergy, religious, staff, and volunteers who are committed to a celibate lifestyle are called to be an example of celibate chastity in all relationships at all times."

Additionally, the faithful from some dioceses are subjected to criminal background checks, including FBI background checks. As Jones stated, that information, including the attendee's social security number, is stored in a searchable database for a limited number of people.

Some dioceses allow access to the database for volunteers at the parish level.

Costing the Faithful Plenty

According to the 2018 annual audit of compliance to the Dallas Charter, almost 2.6 million educators, employees and volunteers have completed safe environment training. Approximately 46,000 priests, deacons and seminarians have also been trained.

In 2018, in addition to $233 million paid for all the settlements, payments to victims and attorney fees, dioceses across the United States paid out $5.7 million for "allegation-related costs" — including the cost for: investigating allegations, USCCB compliance and audit-related costs, background checks, review board costs, insurance costs, compensation programs, training and bankruptcy-related costs.

Since 2013, allegation-related costs have accumulated to more than $18 million.

The cost for training volunteers and background checks is shouldered by the parishes.

Bishops are using these costs as a benchmark to show their commitment to protecting children. According to the Detroit Catholic, "the Archdiocese of Detroit invests heavily in training programs and background checks to stop abuse before it begins."

Church Militant spoke with a priest who said the cost for training the volunteers and running background checks is shouldered by the parishes. Typically, the state-based criminal history check costs between $10–$20. In his area, the cost for an individual FBI background check is around $35–$40 and the VIRTUS training costs are on top of that.

Based on cost estimates provided to Church Militant from safe environment facilitator companies, those can range between $10 and $40 per person.

The cost for parishes to comply with safe environment standards can be expected to skyrocket if Jones' recommendations to require lay volunteers to submit to annual re-certification training. Other dioceses are considering expanding safe environment training to all Church volunteers, including those who do not directly work with children

In an article on the USCCB website, Elizabeth A. Heidt Kozisek, the director of the Child Protection Office in the diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, admonished members of the Church to heed the call of the bishops to move from safe environments to faith environments.

In it, Kozisek wrote that these are "not merely programs, policies and procedures" but need to come with the realization "that our efforts are more than a program with requirements to be checked off on a list."

Not surprisingly, Cdl. Dolan said he was very relieved with the findings of the investigation. He expressed hope that those who harbor mistrust can find it in their hearts to be thankful for the Church's good-faith efforts to right past wrongs.

"I'm trying my best to serve my people," Cdl. Dolan said. "It stung deeply last year when I heard from some of my people; 'Cdl. Dolan, we're having trouble trusting you bishops.'"

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