Catholic World News

US bishops’ official defends safe-environment programs

August 09, 2013

Linking the declining incidence of clerical sexual abuse to the implementation of parish safe-environment programs, the executive director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection defended the programs’ effectiveness against criticisms that they are unnecessary.

Deacon Bernard Nojadera said in an article in America that “I have come to expect such complaints. I see eyes roll and hear audiences sigh … While the safe-environment trainings may strike some volunteers as an imposition or an inconvenience, there is good reason not to take them for granted: Child protection programs work.”

Deacon Nojadera added:

In 2002 the US bishops established stringent policies for the church in the United States that require staff and volunteers to be educated in child safety awareness and protection and to undergo background checks. The policies also demand that safe-environment instructors educate children on what is acceptable and unacceptable touch and how to report what makes them feel uncomfortable. The result? A decline in the reported number of new victims of sexual abuse and of perpetrators. In addition, with a call for men and women abused decades ago to seek help, the church is now seeing a decline in the number of old cases coming to the light.

With dramatic proof of the effectiveness of its efforts, the Church cannot go back. Indeed, the bishops will press forward, seeking to improve the effectiveness of child safety programs. History will report the horror that children experienced abuse at the hands of clergy, but it also will report that through their efforts to build and enhance safe-environment programs, the bishops dealt sternly with the problem. The terrible problem of child abuse may never go away in society at large, but efforts to make the church the safest place in town will go on.

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  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Aug. 09, 2013 11:01 PM ET USA

    I have taken the Virtus training and was impressed. If all parties adhere to the guidelines,there is the utmost protection for the vulnerable.It's a shared responsibility and my church has taken great pains to take this seriously.

  • Posted by: rng2 - Aug. 09, 2013 9:43 PM ET USA

    Having been deeply involved with the SEP program in our Archdiocese, I can safely say the program, while initially a seeming “turn off” for the parishioners who volunteer for various ministries in our parish, after the first SEP training session, they fully understand and support what the program is, and what it can do. I submit that those who criticize the program have never taken the SP class #1. We have approximately 110 volunteers, many of whom have been in the program for 4 to 5 years. I rest my case.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Aug. 09, 2013 9:23 AM ET USA

    I had to do the Virtus training, a liability insurance requirement of the National Catholic Risk Retention Group. I was not impressed with it, was surprised that nowhere does it emphasize chastity or modesty, virtues that really ARE of high relevance, did nothing at all to caution against homosexual behavior, and really was not particularly from a Catholic perspective, and I have other of concerns about NCRRG which has pushed dioceses to settle with false accusers and throw priests under the bus