April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to build heightened awareness to prevent child sexual abuse. Christ calls upon each of his followers to protect everyone, especially our children and most vulnerable, from harm. When it comes to preventing child sexual abuse, we must first know the facts:
The statistics of this atrocious crime are overwhelming. Each of us must keep our eyes and ears open to identify dangers to children. To recognize and stop child sexual abuse, screening and education through training is critical. Faith-based trainings that are true to the teachings of the Catholic Church are offered for adults and children.
The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois requires that anyone who will be around children, either for work or in a volunteer capacity with the church, must complete a background check and participate in Virtus’ Protecting God’s Children safe environment trainings.
The background check is a critical tool used to help ensure that anyone with a history of criminal behavior involving sexual abuse, exploitation, etc. isn’t allowed to work with or volunteer around children.
The VIRTUS training is another critical tool, as it makes individuals aware of the signs of child sexual abuse, methods perpetrators use to commit abuse, steps to prevent it, reporting the abuse and advocating for victims.
Our diocese is blessed to have the continued support and assistance of our parish and school communities to provide a safe environment for children and vulnerable adults. To date, the promise made by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has been communicated to over 57,000 ― priests, deacons, candidates for ordination, lay ministers, employees, parents and volunteers in our diocese ― who all now share in the commitment to be protectors of children.
The diocese has completed 2,640 Protecting God’s Children trainings since the Charter’s promise was made in 2002. These safe environment trainings have provided individuals with knowledge that strengthens our ability to prevent child sexual abuse in our churches, schools and communities.
The diocese also utilizes Virtus’ Teaching Safety – Empowering God’s Children training models to equip children at all grade levels with age-appropriate knowledge and tools they need to protect themselves from those who might harm them. RCL Benzinger’s Family Life series and an array of diocese-approved video resources are also used for personal safety trainings for children. Children gain knowledge of their bodies, appropriate and safe touch, what to do in a situation that makes them uncomfortable, that it’s OK to say “no” to an adult in an uncomfortable situation, and to be open in communicating issues with trusted adults without fear or shame. At least 16,000 children receive personal training safety through the diocese annually.
In our continuing effort to ensure that children are safe in our church, the diocese has created three separate policies to address the education, prevention, assistance and procedures relating to clerical fitness for ministry (Policy §100); candidates in formation fitness for ordination (Policy §1100); and lay and religious employees and volunteers fitness for employment and volunteer service (Policy §1200). The policies are available here: dio.org/policy/book-two.html.
Allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors are examined by a Review Board composed predominantly of lay people not employed by the diocese, including a victim of clergy abuse. They have experience and professional backgrounds in areas such as state and local law enforcement, criminal and civil law, education and psychology. For more information about the Diocesan Review Board visit promise.dio.org.
The diocese encourages anyone who has been sexually abused to contact civil authorities and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Child Abuse Hotline at 1(800) 25-ABUSE. If the abuser is clergy or works for the church, the diocese also encourages victims to contact the Diocese’s Child Abuse Reporting and Investigation number at (217) 321-1155.
It takes a village to endure this fight and to protect children. To everyone’s continued efforts within our diocese, thank you. We appreciate our facilitators, coordinators, and PSR/Faith Formation/Catholic school teachers that volunteer to educate for child protection. Upcoming training events can be found here: www.dio.org/safeenvironment.
Lists of upcoming classes for Protecting God’s Children for Adults are also regularly listed in Catholic Times.