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An independent auditing firm has once again found the archdiocese to be in compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
In a letter to Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, StoneBridge Business Partners wrote: “Based on the results of our recently performed on-site audit of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the Archdiocese has been found compliant with all audited Articles within the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’ for the 2014/2015 audit period.
“The conclusions reached as to the compliance of your Archdiocese are based upon inquiry, observation and the review of specifically requested documentation furnished to StoneBridge Business Partners during the course of this audit. Thank you for your cooperation during this process.”
Archbishop Tobin welcomed the results of the annual independent audit.
“The positive judgment of the auditors offers convincing testimony of the continuing commitment of the archdiocese to safeguarding the well-being of children and young people,” the archbishop said. “Not only are structures directly related to the archdiocesan places where a child’s safety is a priority, the training given to our children, employees and volunteers will contribute to the effort to protect children in other venues as well.”
The archbishop also shared how much the protection of children and young people means to him personally.
“Anyone who has had contact with the victims of sexual abuse knows the devastating consequences of this heinous crime and grave sin,” he said. “The corrosive effects can deprive the victims of physical and emotional health as well as spiritual serenity.
“Because the harm to a person is so serious and the effects so soul-searing, I have to be vigilant that the particular Church that has been entrusted to my care spares no effort in protecting the ‘little ones’ whom God loves so tenderly. I am grateful that the senior managers of the archdiocese share my conviction regarding this priority.”
The audit process has been in place since 2003, a year after the USCCB adopted a set of procedures for dioceses to follow in response to charges of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
The archdiocese has always been found to be in compliance with the charter, a fact that led Archbishop Tobin to thank Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein, the spiritual leader of the archdiocese from 1992 to 2011.
“I am grateful to Archbishop Daniel and his colleagues for their prompt, complete and compassionate implementation of the ‘Essential Norms’ in the spirit of the charter,” Archbishop Tobin noted.
The audit was more extensive this year, according to Ed Isakson, human resources director and “safe environment” coordinator for the archdiocese.
“The audit process was more thorough this year than in past years, and included audits at our parishes and schools, which were never done before,” Isakson said. “The auditors spent more time with us than they had before, talked to more people, and therefore the finding of compliance was great news.
“We’ve always been compliant. What we’ve also tried to do is not only maintain compliance, but get better each year—to try to find ways to improve. And that’s what we talked to the auditors about. It’s not only what we’re doing to maintain compliance, but what we’re doing to go above and beyond the standards that were set.”
Isakson shared the example of the “Circle of Grace” religious education program that is being used in Catholic schools and parishes in central and southern Indiana. The program strives to educate children and youths about the differences between positive relationships and negative ones, and safe boundaries and unsafe boundaries.
“We developed an in-house version of that for persons with special needs,” Isakson said. “And actually that’s being used nationally now by other dioceses around the country.”
Another key initiative is the “Safe and Sacred” program, the archdiocese’s on-line, safe-environment training that is required for adults who interact with children and youths in Catholic settings.
“We’ve trained over 30,000 people through Safe and Sacred, which is tremendous,” Isakson said. “That began just over three years ago. What we found is that we can get the criminal background checks and the training done that much faster. People used to be trained soon after they would begin work. Now through Safe and Sacred, we can train people before they start.”
In 2015, the archdiocese also required safe-environment training for all the exhibitors and adults who were part of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in November. The conference drew more than 21,000 youths from around the country.
“In previous years, those people hadn’t been trained,” Isakson noted. “That was something we worked with the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry on, and they were agreeable to requiring all the exhibitors to get that training. And it was feasible because the training is online and people can do it from around the country. And that training includes a background check as well.”
The Safe and Sacred training program has also broadened the archdiocese’s approach to protecting children and young people.
“With our prior program of Virtus, the training was about child sexual abuse, which remains and always will be a key component of the training,” Isakson said. “But we’ve added physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect as areas where we provide training. Our belief is that we want to protect children from harm in all of those areas.
“There are also quarterly newsletters that go out to educate people who receive the training about how to continue to be vigilant in protecting children. It’s a good reminder for people that the training they receive isn’t meant to be the end of the process, but part of an ongoing process of education.”
All these efforts show the archdiocese’s commitment to protecting children and youths, Isakson said.
“It’s a sign that we truly care about the well-being of children,” he said. “Certainly, we want to respond appropriately when there are concerns, but even more we want to be pro-active in preventing the possibility of risk.”
The archdiocese’s efforts also reflect the charter’s call to dioceses to develop codes of conduct for the clergy, employees and volunteers.
“We have a reporting system now, through a company called Ethics Point, where people can report not only misconduct but violations of our code of conduct,” Isakson said. “There might be boundary violations that don’t actually involve harm to a child, but those can be reported and dealt with before harm occurs. We’re trying to intervene sooner, and that reporting site is helping us a great deal in that regard.
“We have a policy that all employees need to be trained on how to protect children. Whether they deal with children or not, we want them to know. And the reason is, when people represent the Church, we want them to know what to do if they hear of any misconduct.”
That focus was tested in the most recent audit when auditors randomly chose three parishes and a Catholic high school to visit.
This was the first year for parishes to be involved in the audit.
“At the parishes, they would talk with the pastor, the school principal and also the director of religious education, and sometimes the business manager who would keep track of records as to who was trained,” Isakson said. “They were looking for several things. One was awareness of what to do if there are reports of misconduct. Who would you call in those cases?
“They wanted to make sure people understood our safe-environment programs, most specifically Safe and Sacred and Circle of Grace. I think also the auditors wanted to make sure there was a sense of importance being placed on child protection—that it was something where people maintained vigilance and saw it as a priority for their parishes and schools. And that’s what they found. People were very aware of how critical this is to who we are as a Church.”
As part of their observations, the auditors offered a few suggestions to the archdiocese while noting, “these issues do not affect your compliance with the Charter.”
One suggestion the auditors made is that “the archdiocese could benefit from offering a more robust training program for international priests to help them transition to living in the United States.”
Another suggestion involved record-keeping of “suitability letters” when priests from other dioceses came to parishes in the archdiocese to preside at weddings or baptisms. A suitability letter establishes that a priest is in good standard regarding safe-environment training and the background check process. The auditors suggested that parishes forward such letters to the archdiocese so they can “be maintained in a central location.”
“I thought the suggestions were very helpful,” Isakson said. “That’s part of what we’re seeking through this—not only validation of what we’re doing, but ideas on how we can continue to get better.” †