By Patricia T. Gomez, Ph.D., Voice of the Faithful Trustee
and Protection of Children Working Group Co-Chair
The Voice of the Faithful Protection of Children Team continues its work to ensure the safety of children in our faith communities. Building on early VOTF efforts, we call attention to the importance of ongoing local efforts to maintain safe environments during April, which the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
In recent years POC members have noted a de-emphasis on maintaining safe environments in our faith communities. This de-emphasis diverts us from the shame and horror that abuse of children occurred and persisted for so many years in our parishes. But the need to safeguard our children and those at risk remains constant.
This annual observance in April is a powerful reminder that urges ongoing Child Abuse Prevention efforts! Moreover, timely reminders prompt us to remain vigilant and renew our safe environment efforts. Especially during this month, we renew our commitment to protect children and the vulnerable among us in every diocese and faith community.
ONGOING CHILD PROTECTION EFFORTS
What can you do? Here are a few suggestions.
At the diocesan level: The POC team recommends looking at the abuse prevention measures posted on your diocesan website. Does your diocese promote the annual observance of National Child Abuse Prevention month in April? If not ask your diocesan safe environment coordinator to do so on the diocese’s website. Here is a link to resources on the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference website — https://www.usccb.org/resources/child-abuse-prevention-month. Moreover, this is a timely reminder for us in the pews to evaluate diocesan child protection measures and to determine whether we are living out those measures in our local parish communities.
At the local level: Are the posted diocesan measures for abuse prevention and safe environments comprehensive and, most importantly, are they carried out in your faith community? Call your parish safe environment coordinator and start a conversation. A good place to begin is asking if your faith community provides annual abuse prevention training to catechists, lectors, and eucharistic ministers. Become an advocate for safe environments in your parish!
The VOTF Safety Sunday project provides short tips for publication in parish bulletins, especially during National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April. Safe environment coordinators in many parishes have continued to utilize VOTF resources. Here is a link to Child Protection Activities on VOTF’s webpage.
At the national level: VOTF calls for the enforcement of standards set in the U.S. bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms. And we call for transparency and change in faulted structures and attitudes that foment clericalism, especially the insular and authoritarian culture fostered in many dioceses.
Recently, the POC Team investigated how the U.S. institutional church presents efforts to prevent abuse and respond to those abused. We completed the first diocesan website review for Child Protection and Safe Environment efforts last spring. The review scored the performances of the 176 dioceses in the U.S. on a series of thirty-three questions. A link to the detailed findings from that review is available on VOTF’s Child Protection webpage — Child Protection – Voice of The Faithful (votf.org). The second annual review will take place later this year.
Results of this first review indicate the need to enhance diocesan child protection policies and safe environment measures. Actions by all are essential to keep children safe in our faith communities.
- Clearly-stated, publicly-available, and comprehensive diocesan guidelines for safe environments will provide measurable standards that can be modeled in parishes and are essential to prevent further child abuse.
- The USCCB should more frequently update its Charter and Norms.
- The USCCB National Review Board should more closely monitor compliance with the bishops’ own standards for child protection by augmenting annual audits.
- VOTF will continue to monitor diocesan child protection measures on annually.
Parishioners have a key role to ensure the protection of children in our parishes. We need to work with diocesan and parish safe environment personnel to bolster child protection guidelines at the diocesan level and ensure that safety measures are carried out in their faith communities.
Alive in the life of Jesus, the entire People of God can transform into a sacramental community where children, youth, and the vulnerable are nurtured and protected in safe environments.
Keep the faith; change the church!