Although the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was not named in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses, which was released Aug. 14 in Harrisburg, an archdiocesan statement reiterated the church’s “responsibility and longstanding efforts” to ensure the safety of children and families on church property.
The Philadelphia Archdiocese was investigated by grand juries in 2005 and 2011, and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in 2016. The Aug. 14 statement laid out the reforms the archdiocese has enacted since 2002, following the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the U.S. bishops for the Catholic Church in the United States in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis that broke open publicly that year.
The statement emphasized the archdiocese’s zero-tolerance policy for clergy (bishops, priests and deacons), lay employees and volunteers who “engage in abuse of children or misconduct with minors,” pledged to take immediate action when an accusation is made and detailed the “wide range of reforms to protect young people.”
As part of a website presenting details on all archdiocesan programs and information related to sexual abuse, aid to victims and child protection efforts, Archbishop Charles Chaput also issued a statement on the latest grand jury report which “features material that is painful to read,” he said.
“The pain is felt most acutely by those who have suffered sexual abuse and their loved ones, and the church is deeply sorry for their experience. Recognizing their suffering and maintaining our commitment to assisting those who have been harmed is an essential step toward healing.”
The archdiocese detailed 10 steps it has taken to ensure child safety and aid survivors of sexual abuse by clergy:
- All people working with children, including volunteers, undergo criminal background checks and child abuse clearances.
- All archdiocesan clergy, staff and volunteers complete safe environment training programs and mandatory reporter training programs. Over 110,000 adults have received training to recognize, respond and report abuse since 2003.
- All young people in grades K-12 receive age-appropriate education on abuse prevention.
- All employees and volunteers who have contact with children are required to report suspicions of child abuse.
- A full-time professional staff develops policies and training programs based on the law, best practices and the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries to define acceptable and unacceptable conduct applying to all archdiocesan clergy, staff, volunteers, parents and members of parish communities.
- An active safe environment program is pursued in all parishes, schools and youth programs for compliance audits and disseminating information and resources on child abuse prevention. There are 280 designated safe environment coordinators” diocesan-wide serving parishes, schools and youth ministries.
- The general public is encouraged to report all suspected child abuse by clergy or anyone participating in an archdiocesan program to the state authorities, local police and to identified archdiocesan personnel.
- The archdiocesan Office of Investigations handles all allegations of misconduct, and every allegation involving minors is reported to law enforcement, logged and reviewed to determine whether interim restrictions on ministry or employment are required.
- All allegations against clergy members involving minors, even those solely involving violations of the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries, are referred to the Archdiocesan Review Board, which functions an independent consultative body to the Archbishop of Philadelphia.
- The archdiocese submits to regular audits and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual reporting process, which allows independent auditors to evaluate and scrutinize the archdiocese’s youth protection efforts and response.
In addition to working to prevent abuse, the archdiocese cited its ongoing support for survivors of abuse and their families. Last April, the archdiocese revealed it has spent $24 million since 2003 to aid victims of abuse and build safe environments in the church.
The archdiocese claims “far fewer abuse incidents” than found in general society as a result of its protection regimen, according to the statement, which cited studies showing sexual abuse is present throughout the current culture, including sports, the entertainment industry, public institutions, schools and politics.
“Our path,” the archdiocese said, “will remain focused on ensuring that children and young people are protected, and wrongdoers are reported to law enforcement.”
For his part, Archbishop Chaput admitted “the church has learned much from her past mistakes and continues to work hard to correct them.
“Prevention of abuse,” he said, “comes from training and constant vigilance, and the prevention of abuse – along with support for survivors – is and will remain a constant priority of our Church.
Persons wishing to report an allegation of sexual abuse should contact immediately their local law enforcement agency and/or the archdiocesan Office of Investigations at 1-888-930-9010. Mandated reporters are required to call ChildLine, which is staffed by the Department of Public Welfare at 1-800-932-0313.
To report a violation of The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries, contact the archdiocesan Office of Investigations.
If you need support or assistance, victim services and referrals are available through the Victim Assistance Office of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at 1-888-800-8780 or www.ChildYouthProtection.org.
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