The Archdiocese of St. Louis continues to provide a safe environment for children, as evidenced in an audit it recently passed.
The annual audit by
StoneBridge Business Partners, an independent, secular auditing firm in Rochester, N.Y., is conducted within U.S. dioceses to ensure compliance with the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The auditing process has a three-year cycle. The archdiocese undergoes a desk audit for two years in a row, meaning that compliance data is submitted to auditors and analyzed. Every third year, auditors visit the archdiocese in person to gather data and interview staff and members of the Archdiocesan Review Board, a board comprised primarily of lay and professional men and women who review child abuse allegations against clergy.
The audit, which was conducted between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, showed that more than 7,500 priests, deacons, candidates for priestly and permanent diaconate ordination, educators and employees underwent background checks and participated in Protecting God’s Children training. The training includes videos on recognizing signs of abuse, reviewing information on mandated reporting laws, and signing a Code of Ethical Conduct.
Additionally, more than 49,000 volunteers in the archdiocese underwent training and background checks in the past year. The report noted that the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection is working with parishes to train 142 volunteers and conduct background checks on 89 volunteers who weren’t compliant. The report also said those volunteers have been instructed not serve in activities involving minors until they comply with the training and background check requirements.
A Safe Touch class is given annually to all Catholic school students and parish school of religion students to teach the difference appropriate and inappropriate behavior. During the audit period, 34,619 children underwent that training.
Sandra Price, executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth protection, said that the number of volunteers continues to grow every year. The number of children participating in the Safe Touch program continues to decline as Catholic school and PSR enrollments decline.
In 2002, the U.S. bishops — following revelations of child sex abuse in the Church —implemented the national Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Across the country, dioceses have had multiple audits for compliance with the charter.
The U.S. bishops in June approved several changes in language to clarify several sections of the charter, including language that requires all people who have contact with minors to abide by standards of behavior and appropriate boundaries. The previous language noted clergy, paid personnel and volunteers as those who must abide by such standards and boundaries.
Price noted that the Archdiocese of St. Louis had already been following that expanded guideline prior to the bishops’ changes in June. “We continue to include more groups of who needs to be in compliance,” she said. “We have expanded to include not just children, but also vulnerable adults. So now we have groups like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or (extraordinary ministers) that are going in and visiting homebound adults … they have to go through compliance now, too.”
The bishops also broadened the definition to adult personnel or volunteers whose duties include contact with minors. “It used to be ongoing and unsupervised contact with minors. We’ve never used that definition here,” Price said. “We’ve said if you’re going to be working with children consistently — supervised or unsupervised — we’ve always required people to be in compliance and go through a background check. The charter now requires what we have been doing for a long time.”
Price said that the Office of Child and Youth Protection also is developing a new online program for managing compliance in educating adults about mandated reporting and the code of ethics.
The archdiocese’s most recent audit will be included in the data submitted to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which will be released as an annual report detailing the implementation of the bishops’ charter in dioceses across the United States.
>> Compliance audit results for the Archdiocese of St. Louis from July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018
Children in Catholic schools and PSR programs who participated in Safe Touch program: 34,619
Adults who have participated in the Protecting God’s Children program (or Praesidium for religious order priests) and undergone a background check
Candidates for ordination: 141 (97 Kenrick-Glennon seminarians and 44 permanent deacon candidates)
Volunteers: 49,966 trained and 50,019 have undergone background checks
>> Reporting abuse
As part of its annual audit, the Archdiocese of St. Louis is required to note any accusations of clergy abuse that have been reported in the previous year. During the period between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, five accusations were reported to the archdiocese, but no alleged abuse occurred in that period.
• Two accusations involved priests that already have been laicized; one case of abuse allegedly occurred in the 1970s and one allegedly occurred between 1993 and 1995.
• Two of the accusations involve priests who are now deceased; one case of abuse allegedly occurred in the 1970s and one allegedly occurred between 1960 and 1968.
• One was an unsubstantiated case that included an accusation of abuse occurring in 2001 or 2002; the accuser could not identify the priest.