Restoring Faith

July 10, 2003
Restoring Faith
Compiled by Howie Mansfield/SUN staff writer

Bishop James Moynihan spent several days last month at the meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops in St. Louis, Mo. The bishops met to discuss implementation of the Charter of Norms for the Protection of Children and Young People. Each diocese is required to meet specific guidelines outlined before an audit by an independent group takes place this fall. The bishop recently answered several questions providing an update of the process.

1) What are the important articles of interest in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People?

Certainly, each and every article in the Charter and the Norms for the Protection of Children and Young People is important. I believe the greater importance, if you will, lies within how well we implement the steps of the Charter and the Norms. As your bishop, I understand that the handling of the sexual misconduct issue has caused great pain to individuals as well as to the faithful. We have all been feeling that pain over the past year — and some have been feeling it for decades. Now, as is pledged in this document, we must continue to reach out to those who are harmed, follow our newly-adopted policies and procedures to address the actions of the past and continue to implement a comprehensive program that will ensure it never happens again.

2) What are some of the key issues required by the charter/norms on a diocesan level? Has the diocese addressed all of these issues?

There are 17 articles to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and 13 articles to the Essential Norms which is particular law for the dioceses of the United States. A simple answer to your question is yes, the diocese has addressed every issue in the Charter and Norms. That is not to say, all of the steps are complete but the implementation of these articles is well underway. In lieu of reviewing each article, allow me to review some of the more substantial requirements of each diocese.

First and foremost, Article 1 speaks of our commitment to reach out and offer assistance to any individual who feels he/she may have been harmed by a member of the clergy. In the Diocese of Syracuse, we have invited and continue to invite publicly those who may have been harmed to come forward. We have stated it from our pulpits, in letters to the people, in my columns in this newspaper, on our website and, of course, through numerous media interviews.

Also in keeping with Article 1 and Article 2 of the Charter which requires a mechanism for prompt response to allegations of sexual abuse, Teresa Secreti has served as our Assistance Coordinator since July 2002. She has nearly 30 years of experience working with offenders and victims and now serves as the first point of contact for those who have been harmed. Also, we have an extremely competent Diocesan Review Board made up of six individuals who bring their wealth of experience and expertise to assist me in assessing allegations and reviewing policies and procedures.

Article 4 pertains to reporting requirements. Our diocesan policy has been modified to state clearly that we will continue to cooperate with public authorities, we will advise victims of their right to report and their right to counsel, and we will report any allegation of current abuse of a minor to the civil authorities.

Article 6 requires each diocese to establish and publicize guidelines for working with children and young people. Here in the diocese, we have established and published guidelines for those working directly with youth. Now, our Safe Environment Task Force is completing a comprehensive safe environment policy which will include each of these area specific guidelines. The anticipated date of completion for this document is September 1, 2003.

Lastly, Articles 12 and 13 deal specifically with Safe Environment Programs and Criminal Background Checks. The Diocese of Syracuse has entered into contracts with Virtus to provide training and awareness for all those paid or volunteer who work with young people in the diocese and with ADP for criminal background checks involving those same individuals.

3) Speaking of Virtus, who are they and what will the training entail?

Virtus is a program created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, Inc. in order to, as they state on their website, “protect children and others who interact with the Church by preventing wrongdoing and promoting best management practices within the Church community.” The Virtus program will begin with training 80 trainers within the diocese over the course of three days. These trainers will then train our clergy, religious, employees, volunteers including all those who work directly with our youth. Ongoing training through the Virtus Online program will be required for all those who have regular contact with youth and the diocese will be able to track their training progress through the Virtus database. Within the next few weeks, letters will be mailed to all of our parishes and programs explaining the upcoming training and asking for recommendations for individuals to serve as trainers. If anyone is interested in applying to be a volunteer trainer, please contact Father James Lang at 315-422-7203 for more information. We expect the training to begin in the fall.

4) Could you briefly summarize the responsibilities of the Diocesan Review Board?

The Diocesan Review Board was formed as a consultative body in August 2002 to assist me in assessing allegations and fitness for ministry. They also regularly review policies pertaining to the personal safety of children and advise me on all aspects of responses required in connection with the sexual abuse of minors. The Review Board as I mentioned above, is comprised of six very talented lay people who possess the expertise I need to deal effectively with this situation. The chairman, Les Amann, is a retired senior agent with the FBI, and along with the other five members has already done yeoman’s work with sensitivity and objectivity while establishing policies and procedures for the board and assessing allegations.

5) You mentioned your newly adopted policy. How has it changed since the approval of the Charter and Norms?

Our policy re-establishes the firm commitment by the diocese to ensure it is doing all in its means to protect children and young people. It strongly states our commitment to those who have been harmed and our commitment to an immediate response to an allegation of sexual misconduct by a member of the clergy or other diocesan personnel. In keeping with the language of the Charter and Norms, our policy has been modified to include the role of the Assistance Coordinator and the Diocesan Review Board and our pledge to report to the authorities any allegation of abuse by a member of the clergy of a person still a minor at the time of disclosure. As always, we will cooperate fully with the authorities and encourage the individual bringing forth the allegation to do the same.

6) What are the steps of how an allegation is reported?

It bears repeating to say that if any individual feels he/she has been harmed by a member of the clergy, to please come forward and report it. I want to help in any way I can to assist with healing and to deal with the allegation. The steps to report an allegation are the following:

a) Contact Teresa Secreti, Assistance Coordinator at 315-470-1465.

b) Ms. Secreti will talk with the victim to gather information about the allegation and to offer pastoral assistance.

c) The Bishop’s Office is notified of the facts of the complaint.

d) The accused is contacted by the bishop or his representative.

e) Any reporting obligations will be met.

f) The victim may meet with the bishop or his representative at the victim’s request.

g) If the accused admits, he will be removed from all ministry consistent with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the case will be reported to the Diocesan Review Board.

h) If the accused denies, immediate referral will be made to the Review Board for credibility assessment.

i) The bishop or bishop’s representative will communicate the outcome of the process to the victim and the accused.

7)What are the new guidelines for individuals working with young people?

The new guidelines are essentially a code of conduct for all employees and in particular for those individuals current or future, paid or volunteer in the diocese whose duties put them in direct contact with those under the age of 18. The guidelines are for the purposes of youth protection and are meant to create an unbreachable boundary between adult leaders and minors that remains in place even outside of direct program service times.

8) Is there a role for the people in the pew in establishing this “safe environment”?

Absolutely. Everyone has a role in keeping our children safe. It begins with awareness. As I discussed in an earlier question, we are about to embark on a comprehensive safe environment program that will include training and education for adults and eventually young people. GET INVOLVED and be a part of the solution.

9)In its conclusion, the charter stated that “we must increase our vigilance to prevent those few who might exploit the priesthood for their own immoral and criminal purpose from doing so.” What steps have been taken in the psychological interview process of possible seminarians to find at-risk persons?

For over 10 years, the application process and the formation process of seminarians has become much more extensive. Here in the Diocese of Syracuse under the direction of Father Neal Quartier, ACSW-R.Ph.D., our diocesan screening process is known to be one of the toughest across the country. In a previous interview with the Sun, Father Neal explained: “We require a lengthy autobiography of at least 20 pages. The autobiography must deal with family background, religious and spiritual background, academic background, drug and alcohol use, and questions are asked about their psycho-sexual development. They undergo a process of psychological testing with me and with two other therapists, another psychologist and a psychiatrist who are not priests. The psychiatrist is not Catholic. We send out reference letters to their pastors, teachers, employers, etc. We do a criminal background check. They have two interviews by members of the Seminary Review Committee. If they are accepted by the diocese, they then have to be accepted by the seminary. After two years of theology, we bring the seminarian home for one full pastoral year in a parish. The seminarian completes a 10 week clinical pastoral education unit in a hospital setting someplace usually on the East Coast. In the spring of his pastoral year he is then given a new set of psychological testing to see what his growth has been and also his strengths and weaknesses.”

I will add that Father Quartier also visits each seminary twice a year and meets with the students’ mentor and the rector for discussions of growth. While in the seminary there is also a great deal more training and education dealing with sexuality, boundaries and behavior.

10) What has this sexual misconduct situation done to the church financially and spiritually?

The impact of the crisis is not easily measured; however, it certainly has been significant. No doubt, the local church has been affected financially. Efforts to reach out to individuals who may have been harmed, establishing the Assistance Coordinator position, counseling services and legal fees all have a cost associated with them that we did not incur before, but are all necessities in dealing with this issue to the best of our abilities. Since 1993, we have expended a total of $757, 131 out of our protected self-insurance fund on assistance to victims and legal compensation.

The spiritual question is not easily answered. As is stated in the preamble of the Charter, “the loss of trust becomes even more tragic when its consequence is a loss of the faith that we (bishops) have a sacred duty to foster.” Fostering our faith is what I, as bishop, am called to do. Over the course of the past year, I have met with victims who have never before disclosed to anyone that they were abused as children. It brings pain to their faces when they tell me what occurred. And, it is difficult for me to hear because I cannot change what happened decades ago. But, I can listen. I can talk with them and offer them hope that by coming forward, their lives will forever be changed and perhaps, their faith will be renewed. What I am struck by is that their desire to renew their faith is so very strong. The same is true of the phone calls and letters I personally receive from individuals about this issue. Some are full of anger, and understandably so. But, again, a common phrase in each letter is that “it has not ruined my faith.” I am grateful that our people are strong and their faith is strong. This has been one of the most difficult times for the church, but I am convinced that together we will restore trust, promote healing and be a stronger church in the end. 

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