The Archdiocese of St. Louis has once again been found to fully comply with the U.S. bishops’ national policy to protect children.
In 2002 the bishops, following revelations of child sex abuse in the Church, implemented a national Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Since then all U.S. dioceses have been audited four times for compliance with the charter. Each time the Archdiocese of St. Louis has completed the audit process successfully.
"This is like an accreditation process for the archdiocese for what we are doing in providing a safe environment for children," said Bernard Huger, archdiocesan attorney.
Huger and his daughter Lucie, also an archdiocesan attorney, are involved in the archdiocesan Safe Environment Program and helped prepare information for the audit. The audit, conducted over four days in October, was conducted for the U.S. bishops by the Gavin Group Inc.
Terry Edelmann, director of the archdiocesan Safe Environment Program, explained: "It is a multi-faceted audit that examines everything we do. It starts with the bishops’ charter and then looks at how we comply — how many volunteers we have, how many people trained, how we take care of victims, how we work with civil authorities. It covers everything."
The audit examined the Safe Environment Program, which has three components: required background checks for everyone — employees and volunteers — who works with or near children; required participation for everyone working with or near children in the educational/training Protecting God’s Children Program and signing of the Code of Ethical Conduct; and Safe Touch, the educational program to help teach children learn what behavior is appropriate and what is not.
"We know there is now much greater awareness of the dangers to children," Edelmann said. "We know that, through our program, we have prevented people who shouldn’t work with children from doing that. And we hope that through our Safe Touch Program we are helping children learn how to protect themselves."
Edelmann thanked the hundreds of child safety coordinators who help carry out the Safe Environment Program at the parish and agency level. She said her office stays in constant touch with the coordinators through its Internet database. "It allows us to work closely with each child safety coordinator and provides us with almost instant data."
Kevin Loos, managing director of human resources for the archdiocese, also was involved in preparations for the audit. Loos said, "Archbishop (Raymond) Burke and Bishop (Robert) Hermann hold the protection of our children as one of their highest priorities, committing a number of archdiocesan resources to promote and achieve the same.
"Their vision is shared in our parishes by the priests, lay coordinators and volunteers who strive to make us compliant with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ charter and ensure that each child involved in archdiocesan activities can do so safely and without fear," Loos said.
Loos added, "While the audit process validated our compliance, it also indicated we are a national leader with a number of our programs, practices and processes."
Archbishop Burke, in a recent letter to members of the audit preparation team, wrote that the auditor "referred to it (the archdiocesan program) as a model and even told me that they intend to suggest that other dioceses be in contact with the Archdiocese of St. Louis" about the way the archdiocese carries out its compliance program.
"While I know that there are always improvements which we can and need to make in our ongoing efforts to protect children and young people from the crime of sexual abuse by the clergy or any Church worker, I am deeply grateful for the assurance which the auditors gave me regarding the excellence of our efforts," the archbishop wrote.
Edelmann said, "The bottom line is this is about keeping children safe."