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Safe environment coordinator Cathi Snyder reviews procedures for enrolling staff and volunteers in training sessions and submitting background checks at the coordinator in-service at St. Leo the Great Church in Omaha March 12. DANIKA LANG/STAFF

Archdiocese’s safe environment training enhanced for better child protection

Revisions made in June 2018 to the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People are leading to significant changes in the archdiocese’s safe environment training and policies to better protect children and young adults. These enhancements come in addition to safe environment initiatives the archdiocese is undertaking on its own.

The updates will be seen in Circle of Care, the archdiocese’s adult volunteer and employee certification classes, starting this June. Revisions to the Circle of Grace program for children in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs were made last year.

Chief among the changes are expanded requirements for adults who must be trained. The curriculum will also place greater emphasis on maintaining healthy boundaries, and identifying boundary violations and grooming (repeated boundary violations that make an individual vulnerable to abuse). 

The revised training is “really going to talk about what we have done since 2002 and continue to do and then also how we’re addressing not just misconduct with children but misconduct in general,” said Mary Beth Hanus, manager of the archdiocesan Victim Outreach and Prevention Office.

Hanus said the updates have come at an appropriate moment for the church. “The training and policies, they were on schedule to be updated already, not because of what’s been in the news,” she said. 

New requirements for safe environment training and background checks will now apply to all archdiocesan employees or volunteers who have job-related contact with minors, even if it’s only once, such as chaperoning an event. This is due to the removal of the phrase “regular contact” from the charter, said Hanus. Adults who are simply working in the presence of minors are not required to receive training. 

With more adults in the parish being trained, youth will have more people they can view as trustworthy authority figures, Hanus said. Employees and volunteers will know what to look for and how to respond if a concern about sexual misconduct is brought forward, she said.

Leah Stewart, assistant principal and safe environment coordinator at Madonna School in Omaha, said that adjustments to the training make the program more thorough than in the past. The situation is “especially sensitive at Madonna School since we have students with mild to moderate intellectual and developmental disabilities,” she said.

Father Bill L’Heureux, a safe environment trainer and pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Genoa, Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Krakow, St. Lawrence Parish in Silver Creek and St. Edward Parish in St. Edward, echoed Stewart’s remarks on the importance of protecting children and vulnerable adults. 

“Every time you have more people trained, it’s more eyes and ears open to a real problem that exists beyond the church environment,” he said. “The safe environment training opens up their senses to hear and watch because these people keep our Catholic activities safe.” 

Father L’Heureux emphasized that adults who receive safe environment training can provide active support systems for young people in all situations, both in and outside of the parish. 

In addition to training updates based on the charter, the archdiocese has established a ministerial conduct board, comprised of the same members as the review board, to address allegations of sexual misconduct brought by young adults. Father Scott Hastings, vicar for clergy and judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Omaha, has been instrumental in defining the conduct board’s new duties and ensuring it carries out its goals.

While the review board, which provides consultation to the archbishop regarding allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, is required under the charter, the conduct board’s charge to examine allegations brought by people aged 19 and older reflects an archdiocesan mandate.

The archdiocese is also finalizing revisions to its code of conduct for clergy, archdiocesan staff and volunteers. Last updated in 2011, a final version of the document will be published in the coming months, Father Hastings said.

Specific changes are likely to address professional boundaries and updated technology use guidelines, to reflect an evolving understanding of best practices in these areas, he said. 

ArchOmaha Word of Honor

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month, an opportunity for communities of faith to emphasize the importance of protecting children and young people, and highlight the efforts already being carried out to ensure their safety.

The “ArchOmaha Word of Honor” is the Archdiocese of Omaha’s public awareness effort to showcase this issue, uphold victims and their experiences, and highlight the universal responsibility to prevent abuse. 

The campaign began March 31 with the launch of the ArchOmaha Word of Honor website: wordofhonor.archomaha.org.

The website describes the effort’s mission and outlines the “what,” “why,” and “how” of the work being done in the archdiocese on behalf of children. Measures described in detail include the archdiocese’s updated safe environment training, mandatory background checks, parish and national audits, victim assistance, mandatory reporting, and shared responsibility and accountability.

Throughout April, the archdiocese will facilitate a series of local projects to generate awareness of the gravity of child abuse and promote activism. A call to prayer on April 5 will encourage parishes and schools to offer up the day for the intentions of abuse survivors, so they might experience God’s love, comfort and healing. There will also be special intentions offered at Masses in parishes each weekend of April for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults.

Brochures will be available in pews the weekend of April 6-7, underscoring the commitment of the archdiocese to provide safe environments for all children in schools and parish religious education programs, and to teach them to know their dignity and infinite worth.  

Also, on April 6-7, safe environment parish coordinators will introduce themselves at all weekend Masses and explain their role. Pinwheels will also be placed on the chancery and the Archbishop Daniel E. Sheehan campus grounds during April to serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting children from abuse, following the National Prevent Child Abuse America pinwheel promotion.

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