Protecting Children – September 2018

What We Do to Keep Children Safe 

The scandalous reports about Church officials which have occurred over the last few weeks have had a paralyzing effect on me as well as many Catholics across the county. When I look at the corruption reported at the highest levels of leadership within the Church and the harm suffered by the victims, I despair. Dumbfounded, I have asked myself, “How can this happen?”

For 19 years I have served as a minister to families and children in parish communities eventually coming to hold the responsibility of being a “Lay Ecclesial Minister.” During that time, I have been replete with joy over the tender privilege of witnessing Baptisms, Confirmations, Weddings, conversions, family reconciliations, and outpourings of support to those most in need help. Most of my experience with the church have been extraordinarily positive and I know many of you share positive memories about the church as well.

I have been able to keep these experiences at the forefront of my memory because during those 19 years, the parish communities and schools in which I have served have been safe places, free from the threat of abuse and harm, not only for children, but for adults as well. There is a reason for this. It didn’t just happen that these communities were safe and secure. It was an intentional set of planned actions that clergy and lay people have been expected to follow.

What I realized during this recent set of scandals is that the framework of accountability that is in place for parishes and schools to keep them safe is not in place for bishops and Cardinals. That needs to change and it needs to change now. I am encouraged by the words the Pope has given accepting the plea for bishop accountability and I await eagerly for him to make good on this request.

I also realized during this recent scandal that just because I am familiar with the procedures and protocols that keep kids safe in our community, not everyone is aware of what we do at Saint Andrew to foster a healthy environment. I hope I can help to spread awareness about this important matter.

After painful study into the matter, we now know that abuse can only take place when a community allows past perpetrators to have continued access to children, when warning signs are ignored, when a culture of privacy exists, and when a culture of secrecy is maintained. Instead, we can and do prevent abuse by ensuring that all church personnel (from priests to employees, school faculty, and volunteers) have had a criminal background check to ensure no one with a prior conviction or credible accusation serves in our ministries. We require that all activities have proper supervision and we prohibit adults from ever meeting privately with children. We also talk openly about the warning signs of abuse, encourage communication about any suspicious behavior, and teach adults and children how to identify situation that make them feel uncomfortable and how to communicate their feelings to trusted adults.

These procedures began enforcement in local parishes and schools starting in 2002 and have undergone several clarifying and strengthening revisions. The commitment is known as the “Dallas Charter” and it is part of a promise made to victims of abuse and to all the faithful that we will not tolerate any form of abuse. When you hear Church personnel talk about the “Virtus Program” and the 3 hour training program known as “Protecting God’s Children” or the monthly online reviews we are required to complete for ongoing training, it is the Dallas Charter which mandates our participation and vigilance.

Saint Andrew works year after year to ensure that we are a compliant parish and school for the protection of young people under the Dallas Charter and we do so for one reason. Children deserve the ability to flourish within safe institutions.

I believe in the steps that we take to keep children safe at Saint Andrew. I am confident in them because I have seen their effectiveness both here and in other parishes where I have worked. Parents and adults have every right to be concerned about the safety of children and I would encourage anyone interested to join us in the fundamental responsibility we have of maintaining a healthy environment. If you would like to learn more about our procedures, I would invite you to contact me at the rectory, or to explore the tab “Child Protection” on the website www.archchicago.org.  I am also available to discuss any questions or concerns. You may reach me at the rectory at 773-525-3016 or at davidheimann@saintandrewchicago.com

Most importantly, if you see or know of any child who is in danger of being abused, please call the police immediately. Your actions can save immeasurable harm from happening. It is our call as Christians to speak up for the vulnerable. This is when we are the best of who we are called and created to be.

-David Heimann, Pastoral Associate

 

Helpful Links –

Archdiocesan Resources – https://protect.archchicago.org/about-us/mission

Take the VIRTUS: Protecting God’s Children Safe Environment Training – VIRTUS TRAINING

 

 

 

 

 

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