His Safe Environment Protocols Applauded by National Chairwoman

By Joyce Bibey WHEELING—Bishop Mark Brennan addressed his brother bishops during the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ virtual Spring General Assembly June 16-18 on the importance of expanded safe environment protocols at the parish level. Bishop Brennan spoke to advocate for local level audits. “Just before I was named a bishop a little more than four years ago, I was the pastor of a very large, multi-ethnic parish in Gaithersburg, Maryland,” he said. “We had 125 catechists. We had a parish school. We had Boy Scouts, Cubs Scouts, Girl Scouts, and youth group. We had to go through a lot of training for our volunteers and staff, but I advocate in favor of the on-site visits and on-site audits, because that’s really where you find out what is going on and we need to know what’s going on.” He said written reports are good, but our parishes and schools deserve better. He gave the analogy of virtual meetings in comparison to in person ones – “they’re better than nothing, but it’s not really the best (we can do).” To his brother bishops he clearly said without hesitation,  “get your team to do on-site audits in your parishes. It’s worth the effort.” The chair of the USCCB National Review Board (NRB), Suzanne Healy, commended Bishop Brennan for his efforts and challenge to his fellow bishops to do all they can to protect youth and young people in their parishes. Healy previously served as a Victims Assistance Coordinator, working towards healing, reconciliation and support for victim survivors in the Church. The purpose of the National Review Board is to collaborate with the USCCB in preventing the sexual abuse of minors in the United States by persons in the service of the Church. Every year, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston – as well as all other dioceses in the United States – is audited by the USCCB’s independent agency for compliance with its Safe Environment mandate. The diocese undergoes a data collection audit every year and an on-site audit every three years as part of the USCCB process. Just months after installed as bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Brennan took safety measures a step further and announced the expansion of protocols to involve Monaca, Pennsylvania-based CSI, an independent organization comprised of experienced professionals from law-enforcement, public safety, academia, and the private sector, who specialize in various services focused upon safety. The added layer of accountability enables CSI representatives to also conduct on-site audits and spot checks to ensure compliance, accuracy, and consistency at the local level, as well as fingerprinting for clergy and schools. “Safe environment trainings, background checks, letters of suitability, and codes of conduct have an impact on creating safe environments and the slow journey on changing the culture,” Healy said. She noted that efforts are working because of diligent bishops. “Today the audit has revealed to us that the number of new allegations of ordained clergy is less than one-percent,” she said. “We must perfect and put sound practices in place to minimize the risks of such acts again. Focusing on learned lessons helps to restore trust and to create a culture of safety. “We still must address the pain of the number of victim survivors still hurting and just coming forward now. Our church’s response to healing and care for the victim survivor has surely evolved over the years and it is still evolving today, and it needs to continue to evolve tomorrow and into the future. We must focus on the areas of healing, reconciliation, accountability, transparency, and ongoing education for all involve in child and youth protection. “As the pain of child abuse is lifelong, our efforts to heal protect and trust will be lifelong. It is true as long as there is one victim survivor or child or vulnerable adult out there feeling hurt or abandoned, we must continue our primary commitment of healing.” She referenced a quote from Msgr. Stephen Rosetti, a psychologist and faculty member of Catholic University of America, who spoke to the group in 2018. He said, “We have not yet fulfilled our gospel mandate until we the Church become the voice of the voiceless victims.” “The NRB encourages further expansion of our reconciliation efforts not only for victim survivors and their families, but to the Catholic community at large,” Healy said. She said it is the goal of the NRB to continue to enhance and strengthen the audit process and instituting parish and local level audits can only be seen as a good thing, demonstrating “unwavering commitment to a culture of safety.”