Church Strengthens Efforts to Protect Children and Vulnerable Populations

Posted inAccountabilityLocal NewsSafe Environment Program

In the Diocese of St. Petersburg, the Safe Environment Program Office, which was established in 2003, oversees a comprehensive program of child abuse prevention that is focused on background checks and training of all adults entrusted with the care, responsibility and/or supervision of minors or vulnerable adults. The office was established in compliance with the articles of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Our obligation to protect minors and all vulnerable persons and to prevent sexual abuse flows from the mission and example given to us by Jesus Christ himself, in whose name we serve,” said Michael Craig, diocesan Safe Environment Program Coordinator.

In 1992, the Diocese of St. Petersburg began screening Church personnel for the protection of minors and other vulnerable populations. In 2003, the Safe Environment Program Office began training Church personnel on best practices for a safe environment. Since this time, our Diocese has conducted safe environment training and fingerprinted more than 85,000 priests, deacons, teachers, employees and volunteers as well as contractors and vendors working in close proximity to minors or vulnerable adults. Also, last year, the Diocese trained over 27,000 young persons on personal safety and awareness of potential exploitation and boundary violations through the Safe Environment Student Education Program in all parish and Catholic school programs for children and youth. (Resource: Ten Tips for Protecting Children and Offering Outreach to Victims/Survivors.)

The Safe Environment Program Office urges all individuals to make the safety of young people a priority.

“Creating a Safe Environment is not just one person’s duty, it is everyone’s duty to keep a Safe Environment, to keep a watchful eye and keep every child and every vulnerable adult safe no matter the situation,” said Craig.

The Safe Environment Program Office partners with the Offices of Evangelization, Formation, Youth and Family Life to provide online resources for parents and guardians. (Click here for resources.) The resources highlight how to safeguard vulnerable populations and warning signs of predators.

The Catholic Church recognizes their enormous responsibility to secure a safe environment for minors and admits to failures that have resulted in abuse in past years.

“The sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests, bishops and deacons and the ways in which these crimes were not adequately addressed, have caused enormous pain, anger, and confusion. I express great sorrow for what the Catholic faithful have endured,” said Bishop Gregory Parkes.  “We denounce all forms of sexual abuse by any person or any institution as a reprehensible crime and believe that perpetrators should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

Last month, the Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service (CBAR) was established to receive reports of sexual abuse and related misconduct by bishops and to relay those reports to proper Church authorities for investigation. Where a report includes a crime, such as the sexual abuse of a minor, it will also be reported to civil authorities. Click here to read more.

For more information about the Diocese of St. Petersburg’s child abuse prevention programs and activities, click here.