Taking action to prevent abuse

Diocese focuses on prayer and action to ensure safe environment

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport and across the nation want to do something to express their anguish for victims of clergy sexual abuse and their anger with church officials who let it happen. In response, Bishop Thomas Zinkula and his staff are making plans to provide opportunities for prayer, fasting and works of mercy.

Barb Arland-Fye
This millstone near the front entrance of diocesan headquarters in Davenport is dedicated to victims of sexual abuse in the diocese and everywhere. It serves as a symbol of diocesan commitment to their healing.

“That’s what we do as Catholics. We’ll pray for our church and survivors of sexual abuse and fast to loosen the chains of injustice and free the oppressed,” Bishop Zinkula told The Catholic Messenger this week. Specific details about the initiative are in progress. Look for more information in upcoming issues of the Messenger.

The prayer and action initiative is one way the diocese works to remain vigilant in providing a safe environment for all people, but especially for children and vulnerable adults. Policies and procedures have been in place for years, based on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for Protection of Children and Young People promulgated in 2002. These policies mirror recommendations called for in the recently released Pennsylvania grand jury report that called the Catholic Church to accountability for clerical sexual abuse that spanned a 70-year period in six of the state’s dioceses.

A Safe Environment Program, Victim Assistance Coordinator, background checks and Diocesan Review Board were established in the Diocese of Davenport because of the charter. Additional measures were implemented as the non-monetary obligations of the diocese’s Reorganization Plan to close its bankruptcy case.

These included atonement services in parishes and the bishop’s pledge to continue to publicly support elimination of all criminal statues of limitation for child abuse committed by clergy or others in similar positions of authority. Also, The Catholic Messenger regularly publishes information on how to contact the Victim Assistance Coordinator and has published articles written by victims.

Deacon David Montgomery, diocesan chief of staff, emphasized that the diocese’s policies provide guidance on reporting bishops as well as priests, deacons and laity accused of abusing minors or dependent adults. The church, nationwide, has been faulted for its failure to hold bishops accountable. Deacon Montgomery said the Davenport Diocese’s policies provide advice and support a person’s right to make a report to public authorities. Citing the policy:

“In addition, all diocesan clergy and all religious, employees, and volunteers working for the diocese shall comply fully with the letter and spirit of this process. These personnel are expected to promptly notify reports of a cleric’s sexual abuse of a minor to the VAC (Victim Assistance Coordinator) or Chief of Staff unless prohibited by applicable Chur­ch law.” Reports may be made by telephone, in writing or in person with the Victim Assis­tance Coordi­nator or Chief of Staff.

The Diocese of Davenport’s Policies Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior were updated in May. In a letter addressed to all clergy, employees and volunteers on July 18, Bishop Zinkula wrote:

“The solution to this problem (the abuse of minors) must involve the whole Church. Our policies and procedures reflect the diocese’s continuing efforts to provide for the safety of the people among whom it carries on its pastoral mission, while protecting the reputation and dignity of clerics and others who may be subject to inaccurate or false allegations. The Diocese of Dav­enport upholds the highest ethical standards for its members and personnel and strives to maintain safe environments for its people.”

(Read the full report at https://tinyurl.com/yb4bjm26.)

“I think the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report serves to remind us that we must not repeat the failures of the past, by dismissing complaints and hiding information,” said Chris McCormick Pries, who chairs the Davenport Diocese’s Review Board. “The protection of children and vulnerable adults is paramount. A second message I have taken from this report and the response from the bishops across the country is the acknowledgement of the necessity of substantial involvement of the laity in all areas of this issue.

“The Review Board of the Diocese of Davenport has learned many lessons from survivors of sexual abuse in this diocese and from our work together over the years. We are dedicated to the protection of children and vulnerable adults.”

Protection begins with prevention, in the diocese’s Safe Environment Program. Early on, the diocese received some pushback about the extensiveness of the safe environment training and the broad range and number of individuals who had to be trained. “It’s a little bit of a hassle, but if it keeps one child from being abused, it’s worth it,” Bishop Zinkula said.

The majority of parishes, schools and other Catholic organizations “promote the program in a very positive manner and use it as continuing education. Technology is changing and therefore we have to evolve with the times,” said Diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator Virginia Trujillo. “Sometimes we still get pushback, but we work very hard to help (people) understand the importance.”

She noted that the Davenport Diocese’s requirements exceed those of the charter and are reviewed annually to determine whether changes need to be made. “We have a requirement that people need to say something if they see something or feel something is not right …. We need to take responsibility; if something doesn’t look right or feel right, then say something.”

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