The clergy abuse crisis inflicted on today’s Catholics has been a tragic chapter for the Church, especially for those individuals and families who have suffered physically, emotionally and spiritually. It has also been disappointing and infuriating for Catholics who have repeatedly witnessed reports about the failures of some Church leaders. Yet amidst the tragedy and scandal, there is hope for renewal and healing.
In the wake of the clergy scandal that broke in 2002, the U.S. Church set out for reform by adopting the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Dallas Charter set the standard for how dioceses and parishes prevent abuse and handle allegations against clergy. The implementation of the Charter over the past 20 years has since resulted in massive culture change within the Church, placing the protection of children front and center.
To help advance understanding and awareness of this cultural change within the Church, the new edition of the Michigan Catholic Conference's quarterly FOCUS publication shares how the Church in Michigan works to protect children and prevent abuse through safe environment protocols considered among the strongest in the nation.
Today, an extensive and determined process oversees any allegation of abuse that is reported. In Michigan, if an allegation comes forward, the diocese will send the claim to law enforcement while alerting a review board of mostly laypersons to study the allegation. To protect children, every diocese has safe environment programs in its parishes and schools to ensure adults are vetted and trained to protect both children and vulnerable adults. Further, every diocese across the country — including in Michigan — has a designated professional available to receive and report allegations of abuse and to provide support and resources to survivors.
Additionally, an independent third-party compliance auditing firm regularly reviews dioceses' compliance with Charter requirements. The results of these reviews are published on an annual basis, and each of Michigan's dioceses have been reviewed within the past three years and they have all passed those audits.
Readers of MCC’s FOCUS will meet a clergy abuse survivor whose journey to healing began with attending a diocesan-led retreat. She later became a retreat co-leader to encourage others to make the same journey, serving as an example of the many people within the Church who stand ready to walk with survivors toward healing.
The publication also introduces dedicated professionals who work in Church ministry to protect children and serve abuse survivors. From the victim assistance coordinators to the safe environment coordinators to the lay professionals who serve on diocesan review boards, the Church in Michigan is blessed by many competent and compassionate people committed to making the Church a safe place for children.
The intent of this FOCUS is for broader awareness and understanding within the Church and among her lay faithful that the Church remains committed to protecting children and preventing abuse. Readers may also develop a broader appreciation for the ongoing effort to assist survivors both in prayer and accompaniment through an otherwise difficult and painful journey.
To access a print copy of the latest FOCUS, please inquire at your parish. Additional copies are available to be ordered at no charge by contacting the MCC. An online edition of FOCUS, which includes additional video interviews, can be found at micatholic.org/protectkids.
For further information and background on this subject, I would also encourage you to revisit the helpful resources provided by the Archdiocese of Detroit to mark the 20th anniversary of the Charter, either at this AOD website or this three-part series published by Detroit Catholic.
Paul A. Long is CEO of the Michigan Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.