ROCKVILLE CENTRE - An October audit that looked into the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s commitment to the protection of children and minors, has found the diocese to be in full compliance with the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
According to a letter signed by Kathleen McChesney, the director of the national Office for Child and Youth Protection, the diocese was found to have in place all elements required by the Charter, which was issued by the bishops in June, 2002. Special commendations were given in the areas of Victim Assistance and Communications; two recommendations were made: to publish critical documents in languages other than English and to review diocesan policy manual to ensure that a section dealing with waivers to externs and/or visiting priests be worded properly to be in full compliance with the Charter. Both recommendations have been acted upon and were completed. One instruction -- that the diocese accelerate the criminal background checks for its personnel -- was given and has been done.
The four-day audit of the diocese was conducted by three former FBI agents from The Gavin Group, an independent company engaged by the bishops to conduct an investigation of all 195 dioceses and eparchies in the United States to see how they were and are conforming to the Charter to ensure that in the future all youth under the care and supervision of the Catholic Church would be protected from sexual predators.
The national Report of the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People will be released at a press conference on January 6 in Washington.
Each diocese was required to demonstrate the diocese’s efforts in complying with the 17 articles of the Charter by producing documents and other confirmation that programs and policies had been put in place and implemented. These included establishment of a lay Review Board and a Victims Assistance Advocate, production of a written Child Protection Policy and a Code of Conduct for Diocesan Personnel and Volunteers, implementation of a Child Protection Program and criminal background checks for those whose ministry involves working with children. The Rockville Centre diocese has gone further, electing to check all current and future Church personnel and volunteers.
Screening of candidates for Holy Orders was also a requirement and was in place in the Diocese of Rockville Centre before the Charter was created.
In addition, dioceses were required to be cooperative with public authorities and to report allegations of sexual abuse to them and to report all allegations of sexual abuse to the appropriate civil authority.
Interviews were conducted with various persons who have specific knowledge or information about diocesan activities, including but not limited to diocesan personnel, pastors, victims, accused priest abusers, members of the Diocesan Review Board and the Pastoral Intervention Team, as well as local law enforcement. The auditors also met with Bishop William Murphy four times and with Msgr. Robert Brennan, Vicar General of the diocese.
The diocese remains unwavering in its commitment to the well being of our children and young people, and has taken many steps to make them as safe as possible. Shortly after his installation as bishop in September 2001, Bishop Murphy reviewed active cases. Before the end of the year, he acted on allegations in those files, removing two priests from restricted ministry. Bishop Murphy demonstrated, by these actions, his recognition that the complete safety of all children must be paramount; and he recommitted the diocese to ensuring that no minor is harmed by any person working for or volunteering with the Catholic Church in Rockville Centre.
To achieve this goal, Bishop Murphy revised diocesan procedures, created a Pastoral Intervention Team made up of a priest social worker, a psychotherapist who is also a woman religious, and a former police commissioner. This team handles all incoming complaints of abuse, brings them to law enforcement and provides therapy for the victim, independent of the bishop or his office. Bishop Murphy also established a 24-hour hotline to receive complaints. Settlements were prohibited unless they were court-ordered, and Bishop Murphy stated that any priest who could not minister to young people would not minister pastorally in this diocese and would never have his approval to minister in any other. He also named a Review Board that would review all information and advise the bishop concerning the future disposition of any priest.
All this was set in place and announced in April 2002, two months before the Bishops’ meeting in Dallas and their publication of the Charter. The diocese also contracted with VIRTUS to implement "Protecting God's Children," to train every employee and volunteer who works in the diocese. That program continues to roll out.
Bishop Murphy also has called on the state legislature to make all who work with children mandatory reporters, and he endorsed a State Senate bill to extend the statute of limitations for the crime of sexual abuse of a minor. He has personally and repeatedly urged anyone with an allegation of abuse against a priest or deacon to go immediately and directly to the proper civil authorities. Finally, he has made it clear that any cleric who has been found to have committed an act of sexual abuse against a minor even once will not be permitted to function as a priest again.
While diocesan officials are gratified that the Gavin Group has found it in full compliance, they stress that this report in no way represents an ending. The Diocese of Rockville Centre remains committed to the safety of children in our care and to healing of victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Bishop William Murphy and the director of the diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Young People have both indicated frequently that they are available to meet with victims whenever requested. Our support of them remains unwavering; our offer of assistance has no expiration date.