‘Charter’ provides light for dark history of sexual abuse scandal

The sexual abuse of children and young people constitutes an unthinkable crime. This gravely sinful action destroys lives and injures families and communities. It violates the most precious members of our Church while instilling fear, insecurity and distrust. For this to have occurred within the Catholic Church represents an unparalleled evil.

In response to the crisis of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, dioceses throughout the United States adopted what is known as the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” Established in June 2002, this historic document mandates accountability, transparency, prevention, education and healing. It requires that Church personnel report all instances of wrongdoing against a minor to the civil authorities, and demands a zero-tolerance policy for any cleric with a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor.

Since the early 1990s, much good work has been accomplished in the Diocese of Phoenix to eradicate this crime against our children and youth. Phoenix was one of the first dioceses in the country to implement a sexual abuse policy that provided a system of prevention and education, and it was written largely by lay people. It was revised in 1995, 1998 and 2003, and is scheduled for annual review in order to ensure continued effectiveness.

At their annual summer meeting in Seattle this week, the U.S. bishops will discuss revisions that further strengthen the 2002 charter.

According to Catholic News Service, the changes to the charter involve bringing it into line with recent Vatican documents, which specify that child pornography violates Church law and “holding that abuse of someone who habitually lacks reason, for example, someone with [intellectual disabilities], is equivalent to child abuse.”

The Diocese of Phoenix is committed to the charter and its pledge to heal and to protect. Since the implementation of the charter nine years ago, the Church has made remarkable strides in providing safe environments for our young people. In this diocese more than 52,000 adults have received Safe Environment Training since mid-2006. In addition, more than 34,000 adults and nearly 37,000 minors continue to receive this annual training in all our parishes, schools and institutions. All clergy, religious, seminarians, diocesan employees and volunteers are required to be trained in the diocese’s “Policy and Procedures for the Protection of Minors.”

In an ongoing effort to bring about healing and reconciliation, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted meets with victims, to offer pastoral support and prayer. Additionally, each year the diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection sponsors a special Mass of Healing and Reconciliation for all victims of abuse, their families and friends, and the community.

Ten years ago, the Church in America was engulfed in a devastating scandal as sins of decades gone by and the mishandling of abuse allegations became national headlines. Today, we’re still feeling that effect — and rightfully so. There remains much healing to be accomplished. We must continue to bolster our efforts in protecting our children. And we must continue to provide education and training for all members of the Church.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of this landmark charter, the Diocese of Phoenix plans to publish a thorough report highlighting its efforts in training, prevention and outreach. While the Church has worked hard to protect and heal, it must remain vigilant in its efforts to create safe environments and to be a shining model for other public and private organizations.