April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to acknowledge the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and young people. Creating a safe haven within the Church is very important because our faith teaches us that the human person has inherent dignity and every person has the right to be respected and treated with the dignity befitting a child of God.
In a letter to the faithful last November, Bishop John Noonan said, “the abuse of a child stands in complete contradiction to everything our Savior teaches us and everything His Church is called to be.”
The Diocese of Orlando is committed to implementing the 2005 guidelines issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its own Safe Environment Policy which has been in place since 1997.
“The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and the strength of our own policy in this Diocese, are a first step in keeping our Church a safe haven. But assurances in words also require action. It is everyone’s responsibility to safeguard those around us. I am counting on each one of you, as I know you are counting on me and other Church leaders, to work together toward this end,” added Bishop Noonan.
Reporting of abuse is critical for the protection of young people. That is why the Diocese of Orlando Safe Environment Policy clearly states the steps that are to be taken if any abuse is suspected.
If any clergy, religious, employee, or volunteer of the Diocese of Orlando knows or has cause to suspect that a child or other vulnerable person has been subjected to any form of abuse, child sexual abuse, or neglect by any person, including another diocesan employee or volunteer, religious or clergy, they must immediately observe the following procedures which are summarized below.
- Florida Reporting Law is followed. Call toll-free abuse registry hotline at 1-800-962-2873 or1-800-342-9152 immediately.
- The Victim Assistance Coordinator is notified, 407-246-7179.
- The individual is removed from his/her position pending a law enforcement and internal investigation.
- The Victim Assistance Coordinator commences an investigation as quickly as possible, in coordination with the Senior Director of Human Resources, but no later than within one week of the notification of the allegation, and consults with members of the Diocesan Review Board, the Diocesan Attorney, or others as needed.
- The recommendations of the Diocesan Review Board are presented to the Bishop
In addition to requiring church personnel to report suspected abuse, the Diocese of Orlando requires all church personnel, including volunteers who have contact with children, young adults, mentally-challenged children or adults, or the elderly or disabled to be fingerprinted and undergo a background check. These same individuals are also required to complete safe environment training. This on-going program began in 1997 and includes a five year re-check cycle.
The Diocese of Orlando also requires parishes to offer educational sessions on safe environment awareness to students each year from pre-k through high school, available in both English and Spanish. The initiative is called “Learning about L.I.F.E. (Love, Infatuation, Friendship and Exploitation), and it provides a faith-based, family-centered curriculum designed to teach children about safety matters as well as chastity, values and virtues education.
“Our experience with the Learning About L.I.F.E. program is quite positive. It gives parents a forum to discuss with their children, in age-appropriate ways, Catholic teaching about human dignity and sexuality; it broadens young people’s understanding about relationships and character development. It heightens our awareness about abuse,” said Dennis Johnson, Jr. Diocese of Orlando Secretary for Laity, Family, and Life
The Diocese of Orlando website also has many resources to help in the fight against child abuse. There are resources such as a brochure on “Child Sexual Abuse and Prevention” and information on how to spot the signs of abuse. Plus, there is a video titled “Protecting our Children.”
IMPORTANT NUMBERS TO KNOW:
For assistance with fingerprinting background checks and safe environment training, please contact Ida Jimenez at 407-246- 4849.
The Safe Environment Program Coordinator, Theresa Simon, can be reached at 407-246-4830.
To contact the Victim Assistance Coordinator, call 407-246-7179.
The Statewide (DCF) Abuse Hotline is 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873).
If you have been abused or victimized by someone representing the Catholic Church, please believe in the possibility for hope and help and healing. We encourage you to come forward and speak out. Every diocese in the United States has a victim assistance coordinator who is available to obtain support for your needs, to help make a formal complaint of abuse to the diocese and to arrange a personal meeting with the bishop or his representative if you desire. The victim assistance coordinator in the Diocese of Orlando is Randy Means. He can be reached at 407-246-7179.
PRAYERS FOR THE PREVENTION OF ABUSE AND HEALING FOR VICTIMS
- For the Church and its leaders, especially our Holy Father, the bishops and all entrusted with the care of the Lord’s flock, that they may truly fill the role of shepherd and protect all in their flock.
- For civic leaders entrusted with upholding the common good and justice for all that they may act in ways that show their commitment to the protection of all.
- For parents, mentors, teachers, coaches and all who work with children and young people, that they may look after them with the watchful eye of the shepherd.
- For families who are the first to show God’s love, that they may have the necessary support to provide safe and nurturing environments for all members.
- For those who have suffered abuse, that they may experience God’s profound love for them and God’s healing.