Archdiocese Collar Blind to Red Flags

BY KATHY KANE

Last Spring, my 17-year-old daughter who at the time was a student at an Archdiocesan high school, texted me a screenshot of a Facebook friend request she received from a religious order priest who was a complete stranger to our family. This was a clear violation the Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries of the Archdiocese. A quick look at his Facebook page showed other young looking “friends,” at least 10 of his Facebook friends were students at my daughter’s high school.

In the Philadelphia Archdiocese, religious order priests are required to complete the same background checks and Archdiocesan Safe Environment Training as diocesan priests. However, the Archdiocese does not supervise their work/ministry with children. A religious order priest can come to Philadelphia and be “freelancer” of sorts. He can set up shop and work with kids. The Archdiocesan Office of Investigations is in charge of following through on any reports concerning religious order priests working in the diocese. So I emailed my concerns along with the screenshot of the Facebook friend request to that office.

I requested to be informed of any resolution with the case. I was concerned, not just for my daughter, but for all of the minors who were “friended” on his personal Facebook page. The reply I received from the Office of Investigation included an explanation of the priest’s actions. This was all “unintentional.” How could they possibly know it was unintentional? Because the priest said so? Yes, the Office of Investigation not only shared the rule breaker’s explanation but also relayed that information as factual. The explanation was utterly ridiculous. If this didn’t involve children, it would be comical.

Somehow a priest whose ministry includes young adults and minors, mistakenly friend requests minors on Facebook without knowing they are minors as a way to advertise his religious programs. Anyone reading this have a Facebook page? Are you able to distinguish if you have friended kids or adults? I sure am. I just want to make sure I’m not the only one out there with this special gift. Somehow, Father was suddenly able to distinguish the difference when he deleted anyone he could not confirm was an adult. Were these deletions made BEFORE parents could be notified of the boundary violation? The archdiocese would not tell me. Did they keep a list of the kid’s names? There seems to be no written protocol or policy on how the Archdiocese will handle this type of violation.

Yes, this incident was considered a violation of the Standards. He was required to go through retraining and a warning letter was sent to his Order. Guilty but yet innocent (if you go by the explanation I received from the Archdiocese.) What a slippery slope they have chosen.

So this has been reduced to a priest’s “ministry marketing mix up.” No mention of all the other minors involved. No mention of whether or not parents were informed. If I were an Archdiocesan investigator, prior to the deletion, I would have contacted the parents of the minors and had them check their child’s Facebook page, especially the private messages, to make sure there was no private communication sent. I also would have had the parent’s check their child’s Facebook page to see if the priest had commented on their pictures or posts.

The Archdiocese might want to file this case under U for unintentional, but I would file it under A for alarming. I agree with Father Tom Doyle. The Philadelphia Archdiocese is somehow managing to be a little bit worse. Here’s how:

· Order priests who work with and minister to minors in the Archdiocese are not supervised by the Archdiocese. While religious orders have authority over their individual priests, the Archdiocese should monitor all Catholic ministry involving minors.

· While many of the Standards are in place dissuade grooming behavior, there is no supervisory period after someone has committed a boundary violation. 

· There is no written policy about alerting parents if their child has been the victim of a boundary violation. Let that sink in for a few minutes.

· Not only are the order priests not supervised by the Archdiocese but months after this priest was reported, he was still not listed on the Archdiocesan Clergy List. I had to report this inaccuracy months after reporting the boundary violation.  I believe this is the 6th time that Catholics4Change had to report errors on the official clergy list.

· A clergy member can break the rules of the Archdiocese, offer an explanation, and now that explanation is relayed as factual. Pretty scary from a child protection point of view. The Archdiocese seems to forget there are real kids involved in these situations and the LAST thing you do is explain something away when a rule involving children has been broken. Was I supposed to tell my daughter this was unintentional simply because that is what the rule breaker claimed? Thanks Archdiocese for once again screwing up the message sent to kids. The rule was broken. Hold off on relaying explanations that CANNOT BE PROVEN. The only good place for a boundary violator’s explanation is the infamous Archdiocesan paper shredder. Put it to good use for once.

· Clergy, teachers, coaches who have committed boundary violations against children are known to the staff at the Archdiocese. All the info is loaded into the OCYP database, but the parents of the children who interact each day with boundary violators have no idea. So, people sitting in an office building in Philadelphia have all the info and parents have none.

The archdiocese was given the opportunity to update any progress prior to the publishing of this post. No reply. 

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Philly Archdiocese Protection Policy Seriously Flawed

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.