The Charter: the Catholic Church takes an important step

This month, the Diocese of Grand Rapids hosted more than 150 Diocesan Safe Environment Coordinators and Victim Assistance Coordinators for the annual Catholic Child and Youth Welfare Leadership Conference. These individuals and their ministry are vitally important to the well-being and witness of the Catholic Church in this country.

June marks the 20e anniversary of the “Charter for the protection of children and young people.The bishops of the United States promulgated the charter in response to Boston Globe reports that revealed sexual misconduct by clergy in the Catholic Church. This discovery led the American church to experience a crisis unparalleled in our time. But 20 years later, children and youth in the Catholic Church in the United States are now safer than ever.

Indeed, the charter (with its corresponding essential canonical norms) requires that each U.S. diocese appoint a victim assistance coordinator who is available for the immediate pastoral care of people who report being sexually abused as a minor by a priest, deacon, or church representative. The victim assistance coordinator informs the diocese of each report received and thus, in a concrete way, “starts the ball rolling” with regard to the mandatory reporting of such allegations. In addition, the dioceses report to the civil authorities all allegation, no matter how long ago it occurred.

The Security Environment Coordinator ensures that the Diocese accomplishes what the charter requires. This person is crucial in maintaining a safe environment for children and young people by ensuring that everyone who will come into contact with children – clergy, volunteers, staff and teachers – meets the following requirements. They must participate in a certified safe environment training program (Virtus), adhere to diocesan standards of ministerial behavior, pass periodic criminal background checks and, for some staff, have their fingerprints taken.

Each year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops publishes an independent audit (conducted by Stonebridge Business Partners) of all dioceses, which among other things determines whether a diocese has been found to be in compliance with the charter. The Diocese of Grand Rapids has been found charter compliant in every annual audit since 2002. I take this certification of compliance very seriously and am grateful to the diocesan staff members who have ensured that our diocese implements the best environmental safety practices. . I would also like to thank our parishes and other Catholic institutions that are cooperating in this regard.

The latest audit (for the year 2020) documents that new cases of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors are rare today in the Catholic Church in the United States. There were 22 ongoing allegations nationwide involving minors. Six of these allegations were substantiated; seven continue to be investigated; two were unfounded; three could not be proven; and four were categorized as “other”. Although one allegation of abuse is too many, I believe we can conclude that the charter helps the church protect its younger members.

Abuse prevention, while essential, is not enough. The church must also look to those brothers and sisters who have survived abuse. I am saddened when I think of what they went through. These deep traumas impact their daily lives. I would like to once again express my sadness and sincere apologies to anyone who has suffered abuse at the hands of a representative of the Church. I remain committed to helping you heal from this abuse through prayer and other means of support.

The sexual abuse of minors has inflicted a horrific wound on the body of Christ, the church. Each day we must choose to rededicate and recommit ourselves to the safety of our young people and those of us who have been hurt in this way. May the Holy Spirit guide our efforts to protect and heal.

Bishop David J. Walkowiak is Bishop of Grand Rapids.

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