By Jacqueline Farrell
Sun contributing writer
Pick up a newspaper these days and you see endless accounts of both the Penn State and Syracuse University scandals involving key leadership in and around these academic communities. When we read about this kind of social tragedy we can turn away, or, more responsibly, turn our attention to our own faith communities, schools and neighborhoods. At that point, we ask ourselves if we, as people called to protect our vulnerable populations, know the warning signs as soon as we see them and know how to make a report promptly and effectively.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse unconditionally believes in the dignity of all people, with a special emphasis on the safety of our children, young people and vulnerable adults. All people have the right to be safe and protected from harm in all settings. As part of our commitment to safe environments we have an established and comprehensive program that builds on the policies and procedures of the past and incorporates the approved standards of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (USCCB 2002).
The VIRTUS ® Awareness Training Program, the proactive safe environment training program facilitated within the Syracuse Diocese in 2003, presents an overview of child sexual abuse, how to recognize the warning signs of a predator, and the steps on how to report a suspected incident and concerns for safety and prevention. On-going awareness is enriched with monthly VIRTUS ® On-line bulletins for diocesan and parish leaders, school administrators and teachers, and VIRTUS® Facilitators. Renewal of criminal background checks is required every five years in conjunction with the VIRTUS® “Keeping the Promise Alive” refresher training.
Training and screening is required of all clergy, all religious, all employees, and those volunteers whose ministry brings them into contact with children and vulnerable adults. The Child & Youth Protection Policy of the Syracuse Diocese integrates other foundation mandates such as a minimum of two-deep trained and screened adult supervision at all times in activities where children are involved, appropriate and healthy boundaries and unceasing vigilance on our part as adults.
The Policy also incorporates specific reporting procedures. The first internal step in reporting actual or suspected sexual abuse of a minor by any member of the clergy, employee, religious or volunteer in the Diocese of Syracuse is to contact Nuala Collins, the Diocesan Assistance Coordinator, at (315) 470-1465. The diocese will immediately report current cases involving a minor and any clergy member, employee, religious or volunteer to the appropriate authorities or if requested, assist the individual who reports the information in contacting the authorities.
In order for this program to build and maintain effective, safe environments, every member of the Church, its parishes, schools, agencies, outreach ministries and communities must become involved. In closing I ask that we each reflect on Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew 18:2-6:
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Additional VIRTUS ® Training Session information can be found under Child & Youth Protection at the Diocesan website www.syracusediocese.org or by contacting Jacqueline Farrell, Safe Environment Program Administrator, (315) 470-1421 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacqueline Farrell is the Safe Environment Program Administrator.