There was recent news that may have been shocking to many parents who volunteer in the Archdiocese and have to go through what sometimes feels like a Secret Service level of background checks and clearances before being allowed to simply chaperone a school dance, or hand out candy canes at the school Christmas party. In the past two months, in separate incidents, an Archdiocesan priest was arrested for the rape of a minor and a Catholic lay teacher was arrested for institutional sexual assault. The priest allegedly raped the teen in his private quarters in the rectory. The lay teacher used his school office for the alleged assaults. Both perpetrators also were charged with providing alcohol and drugs to minors.
Promise to Protect
Before a situation rises to the level of sexual abuse there is often a period of misbehavior by the adult that includes what the Archdiocese refers to as “boundary violations.” A person with bad intentions is never going to follow the rules, so many times it is up to others to realize that rules are being broken. With that thought in mind, one would expect that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would incorporate the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries into the yearly Safety Environment lessons for the students . If a teacher, coach, or priest is contacting kids through social media, isolating them alone in an office or rectory, or giving them gifts, many kids observing the behavior will recognize it as creepy. But do they know that this grooming behavior is actually violating specific Archdiocesan Standards and should be reported to a trusted adult? Currently the Archdiocese teaches safety in general, not specific to the environment where these kids live, eat, and breathe each day. The actual population that would be targeted by a perpetrator remains an uninformed “sitting duck”. We have advocated for the Standards to be incorporated in an age appropriate level into the yearly Safety Environment lessons. We have not been successful.
Parents, you know the Archdiocese is quick to get in touch if a tuition payment is late, but is your phone ringing if your child’s safety is at risk? When a boundary violation has taken place and the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries are violated, it would seem logical that the first phone calls would be to the parents of every child or student who was a victim of the violation. Unfortunately there is no written policy of parental notification when a child is a victim of a boundary violation. Not only is there no policy, but from our own first hand experience it is not even the practice of the Archdiocese to inform all parents. So a child could be subject to grooming behaviors that the Archdiocese is aware have occurred, but the parents have no clue. Sound like a good plan for child safety? We have advocated for parental notification. We have not been successful.
Many students in Archdiocesan high schools turn 18 years old before graduation. In every instance the Archdiocese continues to treat the student as a minor. Permission slips still require a signature from a parent, absent notes need to be written ,the school nurse calls if an 18 year old student is ill. Literally nothing changes when the student turns 18 years old, except maybe your child’s safety. Is it possible that the Archdiocese does not consider 18 year old students as being included in the specific Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries that are in place to protect minors? Not only is it possible, but in a phone conversation about boundary violations with the Investigations Office of the Archdiocese, it was actually stated in reference to boundary violations that “some of these students are already 18.” We have advocated for the Standards to be updated to use the word “student,” rather than “minor,” so that that every young person’s safety is equally protected. We have not been successful.
We have advocated for these simple, common sense, child protection policies for the past 2 years after these issues came to light on a boundary violation that we reported. The Archdiocese at this point has shut us down and will no longer communicate with us about these advocacy efforts. All that is expected from parents is their tuition payments and background clearances. They do not want to hear from parents who are informed about the gaping holes that exist in their “Promise to Protect”.
A teen is raped. A student is sexually assaulted. Drugs and alcohol are brought into a parish and a school campus by Church personnel. Sounds like they have it all under control. Why would they listen to us?