By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
The implementation of policies, safe environment training and background checks of employees and volunteers in the Diocese of Davenport is “to ensure abuse will never happen again,” said Msgr. John Hyland, vicar general for the diocese.
With the upcoming movie release of “Spotlight” this month, which reflects on child sexual abuse that happened in the Catholic Church, the Davenport Diocese wants to highlight the many measures that have been taken to prevent abuse from happening again.
The diocese first adopted its “Policies Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior” in 1998, before the Boston Globe brought the topic of clergy sex abuse to light. “We adopted it under our own initiation,” Msgr. Hyland said. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Vatican did not mandate such policies at that time.
In 2002, the USCCB established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as part of an effort to address issues surrounding allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
Over the years, Msgr. Hyland noted, the diocese has adopted changes to its policies for a variety of reasons. One change in 2003 was to make sure the policies were in line with the USCCB charter.
Deacon David Montgomery, the diocese’s chancellor, said many other revisions have been made over the years. Some are as simple as new forms. Diocesan officials often check with other dioceses to see what their “best practices” are. The Davenport Diocese also added vulnerable adults to the category of protecting children and young people.
Msgr. Hyland said a survivor of clergy abuse also made suggestions that the diocese added to the policies. Whatever changes have been made ensure the policies are even stronger. The USCCB has updated its charter as well.
In August 2003, diocesan officials attended their first training in the program “Virtus,” which is the safe environment program. Diocesan officials took what they learned to train all diocesan employees, volunteers who work with children, all priests, all deacons and anyone who might be included in a parish/school policy.
In addition to the safe environment program, background checks must be updated every five years.
Employees who regularly work with youths also take monthly online training. “It has really evolved,” Deacon Montgomery said. “It keeps up with technology and societal changes.” The monthly bulletins let adults know about various applications on their phones and websites that young people often use. The training explains how the programs work and why teens like them and what parents or teachers can do to stay alert.
Deacon Montgomery said every parish and school is to have a safe environment coordinator. That person makes sure everyone who needs to be trained is trained and that all paperwork is up to date.
For children in grades K-12, the diocese offers a safe environment program called Circle of Grace. “It is important for them to know some of the dangers around that they might not know about,” Msgr. Hyland said. “We want the youths to know that they can report things to their parents or another adult who they trust.”
Parents receive advanced notice when the program is offered to their children in Catholic schools, religious education programs and youth ministry programs.
“We want to make sure that clergy sexual abuse does not happen again,” Msgr. Hyland said. “You see stories of sexual abuse in families, by friends of the family and coaches. We want to try and ensure with these policies that we offer a safe environment for our young people and vulnerable adults.”