Updated policy reaffirms commitment to safe environments

| September 25, 2013

Greta Sawyer wants victims of ministry-related sexual misconduct in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to know something very important: She is ready to respond to their complaints and concerns and offer a variety of assistance.

“I’m here for them,” said Sawyer, victim assistance coordinator and director of advocacy for the archdiocese. “Abuse is unacceptable to us. We want you to report this.”

Sawyer’s comments echo those of Father Peter Laird, vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese.

“Sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult is a crime and is morally repugnant,” he said. “We will not tolerate it. We urge anyone who has information about abuse to report it immediately.”

Sawyer’s office offers support ranging from meeting with victims and helping them to make a report to the archdiocese and/or civil authorities to obtaining independent counseling for them at no cost, as well as spiritual direction and access to facilitated support groups if desired. All services are confidential.

“I think what most people want is to be acknowledged, and they need it to come from someone working in the Church,” said Sawyer, a former coordinator with the Hennepin County witness assistance program who has served in her current position since 2005. “We’re working to build trust here so that people can see that we are sincere in wanting to help.”

Working with others

Building trust is also the work of parish lay trustees whose role, among other things, is to work with the pastor and other parish leaders to ensure that parishes and their schools are safe environments for all. In addition to providing a comprehensive policy and procedure manual as a resource tool for trustees, the archdiocese invites all trustees to meet annually to ensure they are fully aware and acting in alignment with their responsibilities.

Among their responsibilities is the requirement to see that the necessary programs are undertaken at the parish level to ensure compliance with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Strengthening Trust” is the name of the archdiocese’s recently updated policy on ministry-related sexual misconduct. In the making for more than a year with input from a working group of lay and clergy leaders, it is an update of the previous version, “Restoring Trust,” issued in 2007.

The original policy dates back two decades, when Archbishop John Roach issued the first comprehensive Church policy in the nation aimed at protecting children and young people and preventing a broad range of ministry-related sexual misconduct. The policies have been in line with the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” since it was issued in 2002.

In addition to a section devoted to explaining the services offered to victims of clergy sexual misconduct, “Strengthening Trust” aims to clearly lay out safe environment requirements related to criminal background checks, codes of conduct and safe environment training.

“Strengthening Trust” and related policy documents issued last week also more clearly define roles for groups which review clergy misconduct and firmly establish that acquiring, possessing or disseminating child pornography constitutes sexual abuse of a minor.

The policy also addresses how the archdiocese responds to allegations, and how it responds, in the document’s words, to parishes “experiencing the pain” of clergy sexual misconduct.

“We do everything we can, with the information we have, to prevent abuse — it is against everything we stand for in the Church,” Father Laird said. “Our first priority is to create and maintain safe environments where the Gospel of Jesus can flourish.”

Reporting misconduct

The archdiocese encourages anyone who is a victim of ministry-related sexual misconduct to call Sawyer at (651) 291-4497. She also can be emailed through the archdiocesan website.

Or a person may call the archdiocese’s chancery offices at (651) 291-4400 and ask to speak with the vicar general or chancellor for civil affairs.

Also, as has been its practice for years, the archdiocese urges anyone who believes they or someone they know is the victim of sexual abuse in Church ministry to call the police or other civil authorities immediately.

Archdiocese in compliance with national charter

Independent auditors with StoneBridge Business Partners have found the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has complied with the data collection requirements of the audit process mandated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

This finding is based upon an analysis of audit data — on such matters as background checks and safe environment training for employees and volunteers and training for children — collected from parishes and schools across the archdiocese last spring.

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