Archdiocese found in near compliance with child protection policy

BRIGHTON — The Archdiocese of Boston announced that it has been found in compliance with 16 of 17 articles of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in a March 21 statement. The full, independent audit conducted by the Galvin Group found that the archdiocese had trained all adults who work with children, but had not yet trained all children in Catholic schools and religious education programs.

“While the archdiocese is in full compliance with the requirements to train adults and to institute standards of conduct for those who work with children, some of parochial school and religious education students have not yet received safe environment training,” the statement said.

During an interview with The Pilot on March 21, Father John Connolly, special assistant to Cardinal-designate Seán P. O’Malley, said that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) raised requirements for the audit in 2005.

“It’s significant for us, when they get to that level, to be in compliance with almost all aspects of the audit,” he said. “This year the audit drills down a little more deeply in that it gets past just having a willingness to put programs in place to respond to the abuse crisis — to ensuring that programs and prevention training have actually been put in place and counting numbers.”

The archdiocese was found in full compliance in both 2003 and 2004 after the bishops adopted the child protection policy in 2002. Boston was eligible for a self-audit due to its compliance in 2005, but Cardinal-designate O’Malley requested the independent review.

The statement noted that more than 119,000 children in the archdiocese have already been trained and that the remaining 90,000 students would receive safe environment training in 2006.

The review found that the archdiocese was in compliance with requirements to guarantee effective reporting and responses to allegations of sexual abuse, to ensure that archdiocesan and religious priests, deacons, educators, volunteers and other personnel are properly screened through criminal background checks and to promote healing and reconciliation with survivors and those harmed by clergy sexual abuse, the statement added.

The most difficult part of the charter was training all of the students in religious education who only have an hour each week of instruction, which poses a “significant challenge,” Father Connolly said.

“We wish we were in full, complete compliance, but we’re also gratified that we’ve made significant progress,” he added. “I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that over the period of the last four years since the abuse crisis began to cascade, that I do not believe there is another entity, public or private, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that is engaged in more child protection and abuse prevention training and efforts than the Archdiocese of Boston.”

Cardinal-designate O’Malley has already sent letters to those parishes not in compliance, reiterating his commitment to the training and encouraging those involved to meet the requirements. Several have responded that they are already in compliance, he said.

“We have every confidence that by the end of the calendar year 2006 and certainly before next year’s audit, we will be able to have trained all those children who have not yet received training,” he said.

Deacon Anthony Rizzuto, director of the Office for Child Advocacy, Implementation and Oversight, told The Pilot on March 21 that the program in the schools is going well. The comprehensive curriculum teaches children about all aspects of personal safety. They are trained to recognize safe and unsafe touch, to know and identify the safe adults in their environment and to report unsafe touch if it occurs, he said.

That material has been streamlined and reduced to the most critical elements for religious education classes. Implementation has already occurred in many parishes, he added.

“We’re moving forward, and I think we’re moving forward at a good clip,” he said. “The idea is that the training for adults will help prevent the abuse from occurring by teaching them the signs and symptoms that children exhibit and adults exhibit when they’re trying to abuse children, and also to give children the skills to avoid it and report it immediately.”

Cardinal-designate O’Malley has encouraged Deacon Rizzuto to try to incorporate the streamlined elements into religious education texts that are published in the United States. A proposal will hopefully be discussed at the USCCB meeting this June, he said.

Father Connolly also praised the hard work of the committee members, Catholics and non-Catholics, who have provided council in implementing the programs.

“It’s not just a Church-wide effort, it’s a community-wide effort,” he said. “We’ve come together with others to ensure that our kids will be safe in the Catholic Church, and I believe that we are on the way to helping other institutions and other sectors of our broader community do better at their own child protection and abuse prevention projects.”