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Archdiocese issues revised child abuse policies manual

From February 2003:

A revised version of the St. Louis archdiocesan manual "Policies, Procedures and Guidelines on Child Abuse" has been released, Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Hermann, vicar for education, announced.

The manual, which was first published in 1990, provides guidance to priests, religious, employees and volunteers in parishes, schools and agencies on the subject of child abuse. The manual also had undergone revisions in 1995 and 2000.

The policies and procedures in the manual are "in compliance with state legal requirements for reporting child abuse and reflect archdiocesan policies in place to protect and care for children entrusted to our care," said Bishop Hermann.

There are two issues in the manual that have undergone major revisions. They are:

Screening of employees, volunteers and third-party employees: An amended law became effective last August that authorizes the Missouri State Highway Patrol to provide information on individuals on the city/county sex-offender lists in the state. This information is available through a check called the Name Search process.

Bernard C. Huger, legal counsel for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said that the archdiocese "assisted in drafting that legislation" for the amended law.

In past years, the highway patrol has made information available on criminal and child-abuse history. Before August, administrators could check on employees and volunteers through individual county sex-offender lists.

The highway patrol is now "able to release information to schools and other institutions serving children regarding not only child-abuse history and criminal history, but now the new one is whether someone is a registered sex offender," Huger said.

The role of priests and deacons in reporting child abuse: Another amended state law also took effect last August, which now includes priests and deacons in the list of mandated reporters of possible child abuse.

"That law provided that ministers, which includes priests and deacons, are now mandated reporters of child abuse," Huger said. The word "minister," he noted, includes "any person while practicing as a minister of the Gospel, clergy person, priest, rabbi or other person serving in a similar capacity for any religious organization."

Priests and deacons are not, however, "required to report based on privileged information they receive in their professional capacity as priests or deacons," according to the manual. "Privileged information in this context includes spiritual counseling, spiritual direction and confession."

A copy of the manual can be found on the Web site of the Archdiocese of St. Louis at www.archstl.org.

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