SECOND IN SERIES BY KATHY KANE
A few years ago when I encountered a breach in the Safety Environment Program, it gave me an opportunity to learn about our archdiocese’s child protection system. A few archdiocesan employees and a kind regional Vicar led me through the process. The most valuable lesson I learned from the experience was concerning the role of the pastor in child protection at the parish level. He is the ultimate decision maker concerning the safety of the children in the school, PREP, CYO, youth groups, altar servers and any other situations, activities or events involving children. Of course on a parish level there are many people involved — such as school principals, Religious Education Directors and many other. But the pastor has the absolute authority. This could not have been made clearer by all involved and even led to discussions on how this might not necessarily be a good thing in some situations.
I also attended the Mandatory Reporting sessions which were required of all volunteers in the Archdiocese. At the session I learned about Pa. law and the reporting process. I was instructed that I was free to make a report of suspected abuse myself, or could report the suspected abuse to the institution. There was a lot of discussion concerning the reporting chain and the institution. In the Archdiocesan written information concerning mandatory reporting, the title of pastor is listed first. For anyone unfamiliar with mandatory reporting and the responsibility of the head of the institution, the upcoming trial of PSU president Graham Spanier is a good example.
So I first learned about the importance of the role of pastor as the decision maker concerning many child safety issues from Archdiocesan employees and then learned about the role of head of the institutions (pastor) under Pa. Mandatory Reporting law.
It was shocking to say the least, when news broke that Father John P. Paul was left as pastor of a parish for a full year while being criminally and internally investigated for allegations of child sex abuse. I don’t care if it was a janitor, a food service worker, a teacher or volunteer who is being investigated, that person should be temporarily removed while the investigation unfolds. A pastor in charge of the safety of hundreds of children should absolutely be removed.
Now knowing all that I did about the important role of the pastor and child safety, I was on search for answers on how Father Paul could have been left in this important position while being investigated. Shockingly, I didn’t get any. What I actually received in a phone conversation with an Archdiocesan employee was a backpedaling of how important the role of a pastor is at a parish. His view varied widely from those I have spoken too previously…very widely.
Not only was the role of pastor now not so important at the parish level but also not so important concerning mandatory reporting. Of course teachers, principals, volunteers are free to make reports themselves but they are also free to go to the head of the institution (pastor) with their concerns if they suspect a child is being abused. In this case parents, volunteers and teachers had no idea that Father Paul himself was under investigation and could easily have gone to him if a situation arose. He was the head of the institution. What better person to go to?
I actually even had to point out to this employee, who holds an important position for the safety of children, various ways a pastor is involved in decisions about child safety on a parish level. There is no good answer here, either it was pure backpedaling because of the mistake of leaving an accused pastor as head of the institution for a full year, or employees with roles in these crucial decisions do not even have a clue to the role of a pastor.
When a pastor is under investigation for allegations of child sex abuse is there a transfer of authority concerning the responsibilities involving child safety? Is there someone else appointed this duty? If so, how is it acceptable to keep governance changes from parents, who under Middle States guidelines are stakeholders in the school? The pastor of each parish school in the Archdiocese is head of the institution…head of the school. Do they even take these things into consideration when making decisions?
Father Paul is now permanently removed from the priesthood, one of the swiftest resolutions in recent history. The spotlight fully shining on an accused pastor left at a parish, with parents, children and teachers not considered “pertinent parties” and left in the dark for an entire year. The Paul case exposed not only his sordid past, but also the fact that accused priests are left in ministry while being investigated.
I get the feeling that the Archdiocese feels a bit burned by Father Paul…that maybe they initially believed him and were betrayed…that maybe they were mislead. The same way that parents in the Archdiocese continue to feel, time and time again.