November 9, 2018

Training programs help create safe ministry environments

By Sean Gallagher

Improving priestly formation is one of several steps the Church in the U.S. has taken to prevent sexual abuse in its parishes, schools and other ministries since the clergy sexual abuse crisis that occurred in 2002.

Another is mandated training for all archdiocesan adult volunteers and employees—clergy, religious and lay employees—before they begin their work in the archdiocese to help them prevent abuse and recognize potential abusers and signs of abuse or neglect of children.

Such training is required of all dioceses in the U.S. by the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which the bishops in the U.S. approved in 2002 in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis that occurred that year.

By 2002, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis had already had in place a training program on this concern for about 10 years.

In 2004, the Church in central and southern Indiana changed its program to one called Virtus. And in 2013, it implemented its current Safe and Sacred program, which people can complete entirely online.

Given how long such training programs have been in place in central and southern Indiana, archdiocesan human resources director Ed Isakson says that it’s now an accepted part of the life of the archdiocese.

“I think it is part of our culture,” he said. “It’s something that’s reinforced with new people in ministry. And with Safe and Sacred, it’s easy for people to do it prior to that service. They can just log on and do it from home.

“It’s very much part of how we do things, and we keep reinforcing it as new people come into ministry.”

That’s reflected in part, Isakson said, in the fact that about 49,000 people have taken Safe and Sacred training across central and southern Indiana since the program was begun in 2013.

That culture is also helping people across the archdiocese take action before abuse takes place.

“Things that we would consider grooming behavior are being recognized and reported, which we think is moving further upstream,” Isakson said. “So rather than potentially waiting for someone to be harmed, we’re intervening.”

Efforts also continue to be made to improve abuse prevention training and ways to report misconduct.

In 2012, the archdiocese began a program called “Circle of Grace” that teaches children and youths in schools and catechetical and youth ministry programs about the value of good relationships and how to avoid bad ones. It also, in age-appropriate ways, helps children learn about behavior boundaries.

That same year, the archdiocese began using EthicsPoint, a way of reporting misconduct online. Such claims were already able to be reported to Carla Hill, the archdiocese’s victims assistance coordinator. Using EthicsPoint, Isakson said, gave one more avenue for complaints to be made, even anonymously.

“Sometimes people can anonymously report a sufficient amount of detail that allows us to investigate,” he said. “That can be very helpful.

“It allows us to actually dialogue with people. We can post questions and arrange chats while preserving someone’s anonymity. We can get a fair amount of information while protecting the privacy of the source. Other people are very forthcoming about who they are.”

Although all these programs and initiatives are aimed at preventing abuse or responding to it as quickly as possible, Isakson said there is a broader goal in mind: to promote the Church’s teaching that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, and thus has a dignity that demands respect.

“I think it’s a tangible sign that we practice what we preach,” Isakson said. “If we believe that every person has dignity and we believe that the vulnerable need to be protected, the fact that we’ve trained so many thousands of people over these years is evidence of that.”

Isakson added that archdiocesan leaders are planning to expand the vulnerable who are protected by programs like Safe and Sacred to include adults such as the elderly and people with developmental disabilities.

It also will include archdiocesan employees who might be subject to various forms of harassment by their superiors.

“We need to protect [human dignity] in the workplace when there are relationships of power, and train our supervisors on that and our employees about what they should expect and how to report concerns,” Isakson said. “We don’t want people to feel harassed. Much to the contrary. We want them to feel respected and included.” †

Related: Demanding program of human formation shapes future priests amid Church crisis

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