Sunday, 19 April 2020 12:39

Diocesan review board’s role in child/youth protection

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois continues its efforts to prevent child sexual abuse. Through appropriate educational trainings and screening of all staff and volunteers, our prevention mission continues. Although this year-round job is non-stop, Child Abuse Prevention Month is a time to highlight these efforts.

The diocese continues to provide Protecting God’s Children training to all employees and volunteers. This educational training for adults focuses on signs of sexual abuse and steps to prevent it. All staff and volunteers must also clear a background screening. Both procedures are among the diocese’s prevention efforts.

While prevention is the overall goal, there are measures in place for handling reported abuse. Should a claim of sexual abuse of a minor be reported to the diocese, the Diocesan Review Board plays a critical role in assessing the allegations. Although there has not been a single incident of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy in this diocese for more than 15 years, it is vital that these measures remain in place for the sake of victim survivors and alleged perpetrators. Let’s take this opportunity to become more familiar with the Diocesan Review Board and its role in child and youth protection.

The Diocesan Review Board serves as a confidential consultative body to the diocesan bishop. It is responsible for the intake and review of claims of abuse of minors by clergy or church personnel. The Review Board is an external group of well-qualified individuals that is set up to make objective assessments of such reports.

Mainly made up of Catholic lay people who are not employees of the diocese, the Review Board consists of seven to nine members who are in full communion with the church and have great honor and discernment. Backgrounds and experience in fields such as psychiatry, psychology, licensed counseling or social work, legal issues, or law enforcement investigations are emphasized in selecting Review Board members. At least six members are laity and one member is an experienced priest who is a respected pastor of the diocese. The diocesan bishop designates one member as chairperson, another member as vice chairperson, and one as secretary.

Currently, the Diocesan Review Board is made up of nine members. Of these members, one individual has nearly 20 years of experience in law enforcement. Another member is a medical doctor who has been involved in medical mission work. Two members have over 65 combined years of experience in education. The board also has a member with an extensive background in psychology serving as a licensed clinical professional counselor and nationally certified school psychologist. One member has over 40 years of experience in communications and public relations. An attorney of over 30 years also serves on the board. There is a member who is a survivor of childhood clergy sexual abuse. Lastly, a priest who currently serves as pastor in the diocese is a member on the Review Board as well.

With this panel of experienced members, the Diocesan Review Board can effectively make objective recommendations to the diocesan bishop.

Considering this month’s heightened awareness for child abuse prevention, please remember to visit https://www.dio.org/safeenvironment/scheduled-training.html and refer to monthly Catholic Times issues for upcoming Protecting God’s Children training sessions.

To report allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy or other church personnel — even if it is past abuse — call the Diocesan Child Abuse Reporting and Investigation number at (217) 321-1155. Individuals may also contact Illinois Department of Children and Family Service Child Abuse Hotline at

1 (800) 25-ABUSE. The Springfield diocese encourages anyone who suspects a child is being abused to report the matter to local authorities.

The safe environment policies can be found at https://www.dio.org/safeenvironmentpolicies.

Alison Smith is director of the Office for Safe Environment for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.