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. 

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