NEWTON -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley was joined by parish child protection volunteers and others committed to child safety at a Mass to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People June 10 at Our Lady Help of Christians Church.
"This Eucharist today is offered in a very special way for our diocese, for all of those who have been harmed by sexual abuse, and for all of the generous and dedicated volunteers whose countless hours of work have helped to make our churches safe places for children," the cardinal said in his homily.
Established at a meeting of bishops in Dallas in June 2002 as a national response to the clergy abuse scandal, the charter provides direction nationally from the USCCB used to protect children and young people on a local level. In the charter, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provided procedures and guidelines for reconciliation, for healing, for accountability, for prevention of future acts of abuse, and for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors.
It directs actions for Catholic institutions to work in: create safe environments for children and young people, address healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors, make prompt and effective responses to allegations, cooperate with civil authorities, and contribute to the disciplining of offenders.
The charter guides Catholic institutions in providing accountability for the future to ensure continued effective action against the problem, unified through a national Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and a National Review Board.
"The Catholic Church, the Catholic people are committed to making our parishes, schools, and agencies as safe as possible for our children," Cardinal O'Malley said.
The USCCB created the guidelines 18 months after the clergy abuse crisis broke in Boston. Victims all over the country came forward at the time with more allegations, as the issue gained national momentum.
The bishops adopted the charter, approved a set of norms to enforce implementation in all dioceses, and established national offices to monitor compliance and recommend further actions.
"We have invested huge amounts of time and resources into child protection programs. We have tried to reach out to those who have been harmed by the sexual abuse of minors in our Church," the cardinal said.
The Mass brought together workers involved in the protection of children and young people throughout the archdiocese.
"The most important aspects of our child protection program are the screening and education, made possible because of the thousands of volunteers in our parishes and schools that tirelessly work on behalf of child safety," the cardinal said.
The cardinal pointed to a need for vigilance in defending children and young people in the Church and throughout society.
"It is a terrible problem in our society. The tragic history of our archdiocese has galvanized the Catholic community to do more, and it is paying off. Our parishes are safer places for children. We are scrupulous in reporting all accusations, and conduct an annual outside audit to assess how we are following the diocesan and national policies around child protection," he said.
Following the homily, Cardinal O'Malley led the assembly in reciting a "Prayer of Thanksgiving" for all those involved in child protection efforts.