Parents have a right to expect that their children will be kept in a safe and secure environment while participating in parish programs. It is mandatory that the DCM and other leaders responsible for minors maintain procedures which provide for supervision at all times by trusted personnel.
In any religious education program, an atmosphere of welcome, trust and safety should be fostered and encouraged. It is a sad commentary on our times that incidents of child abuse have risen in recent years and that in some cases that abuse has happened within the church setting. In an effort to respond to the abuse of minors by clergy and other church personnel, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal – the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. With this Charter, the Bishops stress their “deep commitment to creating a safe environment within the Church for children and youth” (Promise, p. 3). This charter outlines practical and pastoral steps to prevent sexual abuse of minors in the church setting and reaffirms the Bishops’ commitment to “continual pastoral outreach to repair the breach with those who have suffered sexual abuse and with all the people of the Church” (Promise, p. 6).
The Diocese of San Diego, in complying with the Charter, has issued the Policy on Safe Environment Programs, which states that every parish and Catholic school in the diocese must implement a safe environment program. As part of this safe environment program adults who work with children or young people on a regular basis are screened and acknowledge in writing that they understand and will abide by the Diocesan Code of Ethical Standards for Church Ministers; parents, educators, church ministers, volunteers and others who are regularly involved with minors are trained in the issues of child abuse, including sexual abuse; children and young people receive ongoing training with age appropriate education pertaining to their personal safety and with direction as to when they should seek assistance from a trusted adult. The topics are introduced in age appropriate ways by teachers and catechists and parents receive materials to assist them in carrying out this education process.
Mandated Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse
Each DCM should be familiar with state reporting requirements and diocesan policy concerning the reporting of suspected sexual abuse. DCM’s, employed by the parish, are aware of the California Child Abuse Reporting Law and must sign a statement saying they understand that they are mandated reporters of child abuse. Catechists who suspect that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare may be adversely affected by abuse or neglect shall report it to the DCM who will report it directly to Child Protective Services.