Child and Youth Protection
The Diocese of Phoenix is committed to providing a safe environment where it values and honors every individual as created in the image and likeness of God. Great efforts have been made to put systems into place to keep our young people safe, and we will continue to work in close cooperation with law enforcement to uphold the principles of accountability and justice.
We urge anyone who knows of or has been a victim of abuse to contact law enforcement. Additionally, the Diocese of Phoenix provides support services through its Office of Child and Youth Protection.
Catholics across the Diocese of Phoenix found themselves navigating a new online system for Safe Environment Training this year.
It’s one that not just empowers the user to stay informed on remaining vigilant about boundary violations or signs of abuse on Catholic grounds and beyond, but offers practical and scriptural resources for users to consult and better screens those actively involved in Church ministry.
On the outside, the biggest changes is the URL and login protocol for the annual training. Users now go to phoenix.cmgconnect.org, a training hub developed with Catholic Mutual Group to also manage the SET database. Catholic Mutual already does similar work with at least 40 other dioceses.
Internally, SET coordinator Maria Escárcega said the biggest change comes from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” itself. The document, first released in 2004 and updated in June 2018, changed the language for background checks from those “whose duties include ongoing, unsupervised contact with minors” to those “whose duties include contact with minors.” Essentially, anyone who could have contact with minors, Escárcega said.
Therefore volunteers, not just diocesan employees, receive a background check through state and federal criminal databases. Some 20,000 checks were completed and approved as of early October with the list lengthening by about 100 daily.
Background checks go through selection.com, a Catholic-owned and faith-based company with other large company accounts. Volunteers had previously been fingerprinted.
Training Church volunteers who could interact with minors still involves face-to-face interviews and checks with both references and the sex offender registry. There is also a web-based video each year.
With the new interface, “There’s a lot the user can experience on their own rather than relying on their coordinator,” Escárcega said. For example, beyond the annual training video, which runs just over 15 minutes, users can look up information on bullying.
Anne Vargas-Leveriza, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the system has worked and is working. Additionally, 15 years into the charter’s application and a year after the latest major U.S. clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted, there’s a renewed groove for presenting the material.
“It’s not sugar-coating it,” Vargas-Leveriza said.
Evil indeed exists in the world, both Vargas-Leveriza and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted say at different points in the training video. It’s important to reveal and communicate love, the bishop said, and guard and protect the dignity of the Church’s most vulnerable.
Vargas-Leveriza continued that message in the video saying, “Good people need to learn to recognize how predators act in order to protect our families and ourselves. After teaching healthy boundaries and the dignity of the human person, one of the primary ways we protect our families is by limiting opportunities for predators to have access to our children.” While she says this, examples of boundaries appear on screen.
The video goes on to talk about Internet safety with the ultimate goal of training the young to build and maintain boundaries and build resiliency against being groomed by an offender. Insight from a Mesa police detective follow. Optional “Technology Training for Parents” is available at phoenix.cmgconnect.org.
Close to 30,000 youth and minors attending religious education programs or schools or serving as volunteers receive Safe Environment Training each year. Some 30,500 adult individuals did the same last year due to the nature of their ministry.
The Office of Child and Youth Protection has fielded a few questions about navigating the new system, par for any transition, its leaders say. Parent thank yous for protecting kids and parents and comments such as, “The program and the video had depth and was very strong” have also come in.
Safe Environment Training
The Safe Environment training period resets July 1 and must be completed by Dec. 31. Most apostolates push to have SET certification finished as school and parish ministries resume each fall and might impose an earlier deadline.