TYLER – The Diocese of Tyler has once again been declared in compliance with the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the document drafted in 2002 in response to the sex abuse crisis ripping through the Church at the time.
The Charter has been updated several times since. It can be found on the bishops’ website here. More information about the Church’s efforts to address the problem of child sexual abuse can be found here.
Information on the Diocese of Tyler’s Safe Environment program can be found on the diocesan website here.
A team from Stonebridge Business Partners, the firm contracted with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to conduct audits of dioceses and eparchies in the U.S., came to the Diocese of Tyler in early September to review diocesan policies and practices in regard to the Charter. The team also visited four parishes and a school to gauge how the policies and practices are implemented at the local level.
As it has been by every audit since the practice began, the Diocese of Tyler was declared in full compliance.
“The auditors came in and they visited several parishes in addition to meeting with people in charge of programming and implementing our Ethics and Integrity program,” said Father Gavin Vaverek, diocesan promoter of justice and pastor of St. Patrick Church in Lufkin. “In their visits, and in the people they met with in the diocese, they found that people understood the program well, they knew what they were supposed to do, and they seemed committed to doing it.”
The auditors visited St. Charles Borromeo Church in Frankston, Prince of Peace Church in Whitehouse, Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Jacksonville, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler, and St. Gregory Cathedral School in Tyler.
The one area the auditors found that could use a bit of improvement, Father Vaverek said, placing posters in church foyers advising anyone who has been abused by church personnel whom to contact for assistance.
“That outreach segment could be a little stronger,” he said. “But that was the only significant point they had.”
The auditors examined the diocese’s Ethics and Integrity program and Safe Environment policy, as well as how compliance with the training and background checks required by the diocese for its employees and volunteers is monitored and recorded.
“Under the Charter, all clergy and religious, all Church personnel – anyone paid by the Church – and any volunteers who, in the exercise of their ministry in the name of the Church, come into contact with minors and vulnerable adults must have a background check and training. We implement that training through our Ethics and Integrity program, and refer to people who’ve been through it and passed a background check as having a current ACS, or Acceptance Certificate of Service. And that’s one of the things the auditors check in particular – how we document who has training, how we run background checks, how we document that.
“In some of the bigger dioceses, parishes are responsible for training and conducting background checks,” Father Vaverek said. “The parishes then fill out forms and send them to chancery office.”
He said that the team auditing the Diocese of Tyler had visited one such diocese, and had taken a chancery official with them on a visit to one of that diocese’s parishes.
“What they found was that the parish had nothing,” Father Vaverek said. “There were no records. They had just checked the boxes on the form sent by the chancery office, but they didn’t have any records of programs, of who their volunteers were, any of it.
“So, for us, we don’t have that single point of failure,” he said. “The parishes send us lists of their employees and volunteers. We can check those lists against, say, the records of catechists kept by the diocesan Office of Faith Formation and other offices here. We conduct the background checks and keep those records here, and we issue the certifications. Our safety net’s pretty tight.”
The Diocese of Tyler requires its employees and volunteers to go through training every three years, and to get new background checks with that training. The Ethics and Integrity program is reviewed periodically and updated regularly.
Yet while the diocese has requirements on who must go through the certification process, anyone is welcome to attend a training session.
“Some of our smallest parishes just have everyone go through,” Father Vaverek said. “They’ll hold a training session after Mass and just invite everyone.”
One of the reasons the diocese always does so well in audits is that diocesan standards exceed those set by the Charter.
“Under the Charter, the concern is to prevent sexual abuse of minors, especially by priests and deacons,” Father Vaverek said. “They’ve recently broadened the mandate to ensure that vulnerable adults are covered as well. But we have always emphasized treating everybody with respect and dignity. It’s not just sexual abuse, not just minors, not just vulnerable adults who lace the use of reason, but anybody who’s vulnerable emotionally, physically, financially, whatever. So our standard is much higher.
“What is very good for us and has always held up well with the auditors is that we put out a very clear message that we will not accept exploitation and manipulation of people at any level. That makes the Diocese of Tyler a much safer environment for children and those who lack the use of reason.
“Our Ethics and Integrity program is much more comprehensive than anything required by the Charter,” he said. “That’s one reason why, when someone comes to us from another diocese, we have them go through our training, whether they went through their previous diocese’s training or not. Most dioceses focus on preventing sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults. Our program is much more protective. We would like everyone to be treated we’d treat Jesus Christ.
“We take our standard from the Gospel, not the Charter.”
And while the purpose of the Ethics and Integrity program is to make the Church a safe environment for all, its benefits have spread far beyond parish boundaries.
“We’ve had a number of cases over the years where, because of the training they received from us, people have seen something outside the church, in families or in their communities, that they’ve recognized as not right, and they’ve called the authorities,” Father Vaverek said. “Because of our training, they recognized the signs, they understood their obligation as citizens to notify someone, and they knew who to call. There’ve been several people removed from unsafe situations by CPS because someone who’d been through our training was able to intervene. So what we’re doing with Ethics and Integrity isn’t just making the Church safer, it’s making our communities safer.”
Of course, it also pays off for the diocese.
“The main thing is that we’ve not had to spend all kinds of resources on crisis management,” he said. “We’ve been able to put our energies into keeping people safe and protected, into acting proactively instead of reactively. And that’s always a good place for the Church to be.
“We are fully committed to this as a diocese, as followers of Jesus Christ,” he said. “As Bishop (Álvaro) Corrada used to say, we will be doing this until the Lord comes again in glory.”