In response to the clergy sexual abuse of minors, in 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Charter required each diocese develop a Safe Environment Program to help insure that children and youth in the care of the Church are protected from sexual abuse. Within the Diocese of Salt Lake City, the Safe Environment Program emphasizes prevention by:
1) communication - informing all Catholics in the diocese about the Safe Environment program and the procedures to report child abuse, in particular, child sexual abuse by Church personnel and volunteers or abuse that occurs on Church property;
2) screening - requiring background evaluations on all adults working with children and youth;
3) compliance with Safe Environment policies - requiring each school and parish in the diocese to appoint a local Director of Safe Environment to oversee the local program and to submit an annual compliance report to the diocese; and
4) education - developing and providing education and training programs for children, youth, parents, ministers, educators and others regarding ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children and youth.
To ensure compliance with the Charter, each diocese must complete an annual audit instrument and is subject to an on-site audit every three years. The audit instrument includes information on the number of complaints of child sexual abuse by clergy received during that audit cycle; the status of complaints previously received; the number of Church personnel and volunteers working with children who are compliant with the Safe Environment Program, i.e., have a current background check and have received Safe Environment training; and the number of children who have received Safe Environment training.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City's last on-site audit was in August 2011; the diocese was found to be compliant with the Charter.
Since 2002, the Diocese of Salt Lake City and other dioceses throughout the United States have aggressively implemented Safe Environment programs to ensure the safety of our children. Since 2003, the Catholic Church in the United States has trained more than 2 million Church personnel and volunteers on how to create safe environments and prevent child abuse; prepared more that 5.5 million children to recognize the signs of abuse and to protect themselves from abuse; ran background evaluations on more than 1.6 million volunteers and employees, 167,000 educators, 53,000 clerics, and 6,000 candidates for ordination.
Although Safe Environment programs were developed in response to child sexual abuse by clergy, many dioceses have expanded their programs in recognition of the fact that child abuse is a symptom of modern society. Pope John Paul II said "The abuse of the young is a grave symptom of a crisis affecting not only the church but society as a whole. It is a deep seated crisis of morality, even human relationships, and its prime victims are the family and the young. In addressing the problem of abuse with clarity and determination, the church will help society to understand and deal with the crisis in its midst."
For a community to address the problem of child abuse, it is first necessary to recognize that the problem exists. Child abuse, especially the sexual abuse of children, is so repulsive, that some deny its existence and don't recognize or deal with it as a crisis.
In 2010, Utah ranked 10th nationally for number of child abuse cases. The Utah Department of Human Services, Division of Child and Family Services reported that between 1996 and 2005, the child abuse and neglect rate in Utah increased by 37%, from 11 children per thousand in 1996 to 16.3 children per thousand in 2005. The number of abused and neglected children also rose from 7,559 in 1996 to 11,979 in 2005. In addition, the DCFS report indicated the most common complaints involved children who witnessed domestic violence (25% of the complaints received) and children who were sexually abused (21%). As a point of comparison, during that same timeframe, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that approximately 8% of children in the U.S. who were abused were sexually abused.
Many communities prefer to believe that strangers are more likely to abuse children than people the children know. However, the 2005 DCFS report indicated that parents were the perpetrators of child abuse 66% of the time; other relatives, 12 percent of the time; and non-relatives, 21% of the time. The category "non-relatives" includes strangers but also includes neighbors and others, such as teachers that the victim knows.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City is committed to protect our children from abuse. We will continue to screen adults working with children; to develop and provide training on safe environment for both adults and children; and to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Charter.
God of endless love, ever caring, ever strong,
always present, always just: You gave your only Son
to save us by the blood of his cross.
Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace, join to your own suffering
the pain of all who have been hurt in body, mind, and spirit
by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.
Hear our cries as we agonize over the harm done
to our brothers and sisters. Breathe wisdom into our prayers,
soothe restless hearts with hope, steady shaken spirits with faith:
Show us the way to justice and wholeness,
enlightened by truth and enfolded in your mercy.
Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, heal your people's wounds
and transform our brokenness. Grant us courage and wisdom,
humility and grace, so that we may act with justice and find peace in you.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen (USCCB