By Kathy Kane, Catholics4Change
The most recent bulletin insert distributed from the Archdiocese highlights the The Standard of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries. The Standards apply to clergy, teachers, coaches, volunteers – all who interact with children. The most important sentence in that document is the following:
“Any Church personnel or volunteers who violate the Standards may be removed or suspended from their position depending upon the nature of the offense.”
If there is an incident or even suspicion of sexual abuse, contact the police. But many of the Standards describe behavior and conduct that although inappropriate, are not criminal.
Who has the authority to enforce these Standards and make sure they are upheld on a parish level? The Archdiocese? The Office of Child and Youth Protection? The Office of Catholic Education? None of these.
Each pastor is responsible for overseeing the safety of children enrolled in the parish school, religious education program and/or CYO as well as teens in Youth Ministry. If there’s a problem such as inadequate child/chaperone ratios or off-site event issues, the handling of the problem is at the pastor’s discretion.
If something is not handled properly on a parish level by the pastor, is there any recourse? No. There is not. If you bring your concern to the Archdiocese they will refer you back to your parish.
Of the recent suspensions of 26 diocesan priests, I think 11 of these men were pastors of parishes. I know that Father Ayres, suspended in November of 2010 was pastor and acting pastor of two parishes. They were pastors responsible for the safety of the children in their parishes and they are now being investigated for allegations ranging from boundary issues to child sex abuse.
In researching how other Dioceses address child safety, I’ve found many adopted additional customized charters of child protection. In the Philadelphia Archdiocese we have no such additional child protection charters.
In other Dioceses, there are specific child safety policies that pastors must follow. Some Dioceses have classified these child protection policies as “diocesan law”. Those who do not uphold the charters, face specific penalties. What is the current accountability for pastors who do not enforce the Standards in the Philadelphia Archdiocese? From my research and phone calls with the Archdiocese, it’s very unclear if any penalties exist.
Because we have no additional charters of protection for children in the Archdiocese, child safety can vary from parish to parish. An activity or event that could put children at risk could be forbidden by one pastor – mandated by another. The policies that do exist are not enforced on an Archdiocesan level. Many things are recommendations with absolutely no penalties if they are not followed on a parish level.
Does anyone think this is a good plan? How could this possibly work? The simple answer is obvious. It doesn’t work.
I advocated for policy concerning safety protocol for the thousands of children in Archdiocesan CYO programs. The issue I brought to the Archdiocese’s attention didn’t have any existing policy. However in other Dioceses, there was policy in place. I was repeatedly told by Archdiocesan employees how difficult it is to have policy all pastors would have to follow. Why? In other Dioceses it works.
I spent months emailing and placing phone calls. In the Archdiocese, nothing seems to move forward without a clergy member on board. I finally contacted Monsignor Joseph Marino, vicar of Chester County, in Sept. 2010 – before the recent scandals came to light. Along with being the pastor of his own parish, he was also acting pastor of two parishes and oversees the 18 parishes of Chester County. Monsignor Marino was compassionate, knowledgeable and proactive. His assistance moved the process forward. He got involved and did what was necessary for the safety of the children of the Archdiocese.
I contacted Bishop Fitzgerald’s office on several occasions since November 2010. I had questions and also offered to share my research. Although Bishop Fitzgerald approved the child safety policy (which I fought an uphill battle to have implemented), he still to this day has not replied. I verified he received my emails. I called his office two months ago to ask why I hadn’t heard back. His administrative assistant told me it would be a priority and he’d contact me. I’m still waiting.
I’ve been told Bishops are very busy. If I am to believe what Cardinal Rigali has stated, he and the Bishops are very busy ensuring the safety of the children of the Archdiocese. I‘m a parent, a professional and an advocate for children. I have identified the flaws in the system. Wouldn’t they want to meet with me to learn from a parent’s perspective how the system will continue to fail the children of the Archdiocese?
Kathy Kane received a Bachelor Degree in Social Work from Cabrini College and a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice.