Anne Vargas-Leveriza, who recently began working as director of the Office of Youth and Child Protection, is committed to serving victims of sexual abuse.
“Part of my role is educating the public about what I do here,” said Vargas-Leveriza, who’s experienced in crisis intervention. She’s worked with children, adults, the elderly and individuals with mental illness.
The office provides pastoral outreach and resources to victims or survivors, their families and members of the community who have experienced abuse of any kind.
Being there is “huge,” Vargas-Leveriza said. In some cases, adults who’ve been abused don’t come out with details until 30-40 years after the incidents.
“Good family support makes it easier for you to come forward,” she said. “If you don’t have that support, it’s very hard to come forward. Some people never talk about it.”
Vargas-Leveriza will work alongside ongoing Safe Environment efforts to maintain a culture where abuse is not tolerated and where victims are empowered to speak up.
“Back in the day, we didn’t talk about it,” she said. “As a kid, victims often ask themselves, ‘Who would believe me?’”
Things have changed, Vargas-Leveriza said.
“The Church is more aware,” she said. “It’s facing the issues head on. It’s out in the community relating to people.”
Fr. Fred Adamson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, noted Vargas-Leveriza’s faith and education.
“Her faith, compassionate spirit and her desire to help people are all important qualities for the position,” he said, adding that it’s a “key position” for the Diocese of Phoenix. Vargas Leveriza, who holds a master’s in clinical psychology, is completing her doctoral studies.
“Having a person in the office who people can turn to for assistance when they have been abused is an important pastoral outreach,” Fr. Adamson said.
“The abuse of young people, or any abuse for that matter, is an attack on the dignity of the human person and causes hurt, confusion and pain,” he added. “This office is meant to assist the person on their journey to heal through the divine healer Jesus Christ.”
Teresa Becker, coordinator of the Safe Environment Office, also underscored healing as a priority.
“There’s a promise to protect, but there’s also a pledge to heal,” she said, referring to the U.S. bishops’ 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” often called the Dallas Charter.
That healing can take place, Becker said, when the office is in regular contact with victims. It’s “being present and walking the journey with them,” she said.
Sr. Jean Steffes, CSA, chancellor of the Diocese of Phoenix, said Vargas-Leveriza will help victims work through the healing process.
“She has a presence that makes people comfortable,” she said. “She has the personality to help them tell their story.”
Sr. Jean also noted Vargas-Leveriza’s cultural heritage. As a Filipina in the United States, she “brings cross-cultural sensibilities,” Sr. Jean said. “She’ll be reaching out to people of different backgrounds.”
Vargas-Leveriza will work closely with all parishes and offices involved with the youth and will address boundary violations.
“The diocese wants the safety and protection of all youth and is committed to that,” Sr. Jean said. “When there’s a violation [of the safety and protection of youth], we want to work toward a just resolution so that it never happens again.”
It’s important for families to be comfortable that their children are safe, she said.
“We’re committed,” Sr. Jean said. “We respond very quickly when there’s an allegation, as soon as it’s known.”
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares remain committed to the support of all victims of clergy abuse.
Bishop Olmsted encourages anyone who has been a victim of child sexual abuse by any employee of the Roman Catholic Church to please come forward by contacting the Office of Child and Youth Protection: (602) 354-2396, firstname.lastname@example.org.