April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. As caring adults, we know that all children have the right to be safe and protected from harm in all environments — home, school, religious institutions, neighborhoods and communities. We are all called to be protectors of young children and vulnerable adults. Preventing child abuse is everyone’s responsibility.
I write this week to assure you that the Diocese of Syracuse embraces this right to safety and is dedicated to promoting the protection of children and young people. It will continue to take steps to create a safe environment, to prevent child abuse, and to bring the healing ministry of the diocese to bear wherever possible.
Protecting God’s children is an obligation incumbent upon each one of us. In our diocese, we have adopted a program called VIRTUS that identifies best practices designed to help prevent wrongdoing and promote “rightdoing” within religious organizations. The VIRTUS programs empower organizations and people to better control risk and improve the lives of all those who interact with the Church. Over 25,000 adults throughout our diocese have been trained in the VIRTUS program since 2003.
This year we celebrate the 8th anniversary of this important program. In addition to the initial training, approximately 6,000 clergy, employees, and volunteers have been recertified since October 2008. Both the initial and recertification training sessions are held throughout the diocese on a regular basis. You can find the schedules for the initial and recertification sessions on our diocesan website in the training section found under the Child and Youth Protection link located on the homepage, www.syracusediocese.org, or, you may check in the office of your parish, school or agency.
All adults have a moral responsibility to protect possible victims by reporting the suspected abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities. Sexual abuse of minors is a pervasive societal problem, and only concerted and sustained efforts by all adults in every segment of society can help protect children and youth.
Our own diocesan policy details 10 basic elements or protocols that are the foundation to identifying inappropriate relations with a child and preventing sexual abuse. The protocols are: training, screening, adequate leadership, open access, visibility, respect for personal privacy, separate accommodations, appropriate behaviors and boundaries, hazing, banning of secret ceremonies or secret organizations, and vigilance. More information on each element is available on our diocesan website at the Child and Youth Protection link. These protocols are fully developed in the sessions for individuals working with youth.
Every adult working with children must remain vigilant at all times. It is vitally important that we are constantly on guard and conscientiously observe the behaviors of those who interact with children. Any concern should be communicated to the appropriate parties. Sometimes this involves communicating our safety concerns to our children. And sometimes it requires communicating our concerns about seemingly inappropriate behavior to those who are in a position to intervene.