This manual is part of an on-going effort to provide instructions to parishes, schools, and agencies relative to the implementation of the Bishops Charter on Protecting Children and Young People, “Promise to Protect; Pledge to Heal”, written in 2002 (updated in 2005, in 2010 and again in 2018) in response to the sex abuse crisis in the Church.
Pastors are responsible for the creation of a Safe Environment in the parish, the school (if the parish has one) and any activity involving young people that is related to parish or parochial school activity, (e.g., athletic team activities). The principals of Archdiocesan elementary schools will cooperate fully with the pastors and be directed by the pastors in the provision of a Safe Environment. The principals of the four Archdiocesan high schools and of schools not affiliated with a parish (currently Saint Thomas More and Saint Brigid elementary schools) are accountable for the Safe Environment program at their respective school, and will be guided by the Department of Catholic Schools. The athletic leagues oversee activities deriving their volunteer support from members of the parish and school communities, and the relevant pastors and principals, as applicable, remain responsible for the creation of a Safe Environment Program within which the athletic leagues operate.
Other agencies are the responsibility of their designated leader.
Please read and use this manual. Forward any comment or suggestion for revision to:
ARCHDIOCESE OF SAN FRANCISCO
OFFICE OF CHILD AND YOUTH PROTECTION
ONE PETER YORKE WAY
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94109
In 2002, in response to reports regarding the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, the bishops of the United States promulgated the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People entitled “Promise to Protect; Pledge to Heal.” This document is a statement of commitment on the part of our bishops and our Church to continue and strengthen efforts to eradicate such abuse from the Church and preserve an environment that is vigilant to such abuse. The bishops obligated themselves and their dioceses to full implementation of the provisions of this document.
The Charter describes how the Church will address existing and future claims so as to provide rapid and fair response to victims while protecting the rights of the accused. It assures all that the Church will cooperate with civil authority in every case.
The Charter also defines actions to be taken by each diocese to create a safe environment in our parishes, schools, and other Church-sponsored institutions so that families can be assured that their children are safe when placed in our care. This Safe Environment is achieved by:
- Ensuring all adults are provided minimum standards of conduct for interaction with minors;
- Instructing each child in ways to keep themselves safe;
- Training adult employees and volunteers (parish, school, or other institutions) on how to recognize abuse, how to report it to civil authority and to the Church, and how to prevent it;
- Evaluating the background of adult employees or volunteers who have “on-going, unsupervised contact with minors” on behalf of the Church prior to their being granted that contact. We use two forms of background evaluation, finger printing via Live Scan, and demographic data-based background checking, depending on the level and nature of contact with minors
It is the policy of the ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF SAN FRANCISCO that all those who work or volunteer in a parish, school, or agency will promote and maintain a safe, mutually respectful and appropriate ministerial relationship with all persons served and those who serve.
It is the policy of the Archdiocese that everyone should report suspected child abuse and neglect.
PROCESSING REPORTS OF POTENTIAL ABUSE #
“Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities with due regard for the seal of the Sacrament of Penance. Dioceses/eparchies are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question.
Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor.
In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right.”
THE REPORTING LAW #
As noted above, it is the policy of the Archdiocese of San Francisco that everyone should report suspected child abuse and neglect. In addition, Article 2.5 of the State of California Penal Code provides that it is a crime for certain individuals (called mandatory reporters) who have contact with and supervision of children (e.g., school, parish and agency teachers and administrators, coaches, etc.) not to report suspected abuse to the proper authorities. These reports are to be made to Child Protective Services in instances where the alleged victim and alleged abuser share the same household and to a local law enforcement agency when the alleged victim is not of the same household as the alleged abuser. The following are excerpts and summaries of sections from the State of California Child Abuse Reporting Laws:
“. . . a mandated reporter … shall make a report … whenever the mandated reporter, in his or her professional capacity or within the scope of his or her employment, has knowledge of or observes a child whom the mandated reporter knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect. The mandated reporter shall make an initial report by telephone to the agency immediately or as soon as is practicably possible, and shall prepare and send, fax, or electronically transmit a written follow-up report within 36 hours of receiving the information concerning the incident…. For purposes of this article, ‘reasonable suspicion’ means that it is objectively reasonable for a person to entertain a suspicion, based upon facts that could cause a reasonable person in a like position, drawing, when appropriate, on his or her training and experience, to suspect child abuse or neglect. ‘Reasonable suspicion’ does not require certainty that child abuse or neglect has occurred nor does it require a specific medical indication of child abuse or neglect; any ‘reasonable suspicion’ is sufficient.” (Penal Code sec. 11166(a))
“Any other person who has knowledge of or observes a child whom he or she knows or reasonably suspects has been a victim of child abuse or neglect may report the known or suspected instance of child abuse or neglect… For purposes of this section ‘any other person’ includes a mandated reporter who acts in his or her private capacity and not in his or her professional capacity or with the scope of his or her employment.” (Penal Code sec. 11166(g))
Under California law, “mandated reporters” include clergy, childcare custodians, school personnel, health care practitioners, and other professional groups, as mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. It includes, for example, all priests and religious; instructional aides, teachers’ aides and teacher assistants; administrative officers of schools, day camps, youth centers, or recreation programs; athletic coaches and assistant coaches; as well as any other employee of an organization whose duties require direct contact and supervision of schools. Other adults are “ethical” reporters and should also report such suspicions.
The law allows for exemptions from reporting by clergy in limited circumstances called a penitential communication, which is defined as “a communication, intended to be in confidence, including, but not limited to, a sacramental confession, made to a clergy member who, in the course of the discipline or practice of his or her church, denomination, or organization, is authorized or accustomed to hear those communications, and under the discipline, tenets, customs, or practices of his or her church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret.” For Catholic clergy, however, this limitation is only available when there is a clear religious tradition, supported by the teachings, laws and practices of the Church that would outweigh the reporting mandate. Clearly, this exemption includes the hearing of a penitent’s confession by a priest or bishop. In cases of confidential communication apart from confession, the duty to protect children by reporting the known or suspected child abuse may, and in some instances should, prevail over the presumption of confidentiality. This would be true where a member of the clergy determines that children are currently at risk of abuse. It could also be true in cases where the clergy member invokes the “internal forum.” Should a clergy member have questions about whether information that would trigger a duty to report is covered by a canonical duty of confidentiality, he should consult with the Archdiocesan judicial vicar.
Failure of a mandated reporter to report by telephone immediately or as soon as practically possible, and then in writing within 36 hours of receiving the information concerning the incident is a misdemeanor “punishable by up to six months confinement in a county jail or by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by both that imprisonment and fine.”
Those required to report should be aware that mere reporting does not necessarily mean that a civil or criminal proceeding will be initiated against the suspected abuser.
The written reports regarding known or suspected sexual abuse that mandated reporters must submit
within 36 hours of the receiving the information concerning the incident must be on a Department of
Justice form (SS 8572). This form is available on the Archdiocese’s website and at www.Virtus.org.
The reporting duties (and statutory penalties for failing to report) of a mandated reporter are individual, and cannot be delegated to another individual. Supervisors or administrators may not impede or inhibit reporting by a mandated reporter, nor may they take any actions against the reporter for making a report. However, it is appropriate to establish internal procedures to facilitate reporting and apprise supervisors and administrators of reports so long as these procedures are not inconsistent with the reporting law.
Mandated and ethical reporters of child abuse are immune from civil or criminal liability for having made
MAKING A REPORT #
The mandated reporter must provide his/her name and the following information when making the telephone report of suspected child abuse to the child protective agency (Child Protective Services (CPS)
when the alleged abuser and victim share the same household, and local law enforcement agencies when the alleged victim is of a different household than the alleged abuser):
- Name of child;
- Present location of the child;
- Nature and extent of the injury; and
- Any other information, including that which led the person to suspect child abuse, requested by the child protective agency.
Within 36 hours of receiving the information concerning the incident, a written report must also be filed
with the child protective agency to which the telephone report was made. The written report must be filed on Department of Justice Form SS 8572, “Suspected Child Abuse Report”. These forms are available
through county welfare and probation departments and law enforcement agencies. It is recommended that Archdiocesan parishes, schools, and agencies obtain a supply of these forms and keep them in a wellknown and readily accessible location. They are also available on-line on the Archdiocese website,
www.sfarch.org, and www.virtus.org.
After the verbal report is made, a person from the child protective agency will usually be dispatched
immediately to the site. If neglect is suspected, the worker will respond to the site or to the child’s home
within one to three days, as per county practice.
A copy of the report should not be made a part of any pupil’s cumulative record; however, a notation on the cumulative record indicating “CA report filed (with date)” would be appropriate. One copy of the report may be kept in a confidential file or log by the administration, but not placed in the pupil’s folder. Follow-up with the family is the responsibility of the respective child protective agency. The Archdiocese of San Francisco has established the position of “Victim Assistance Coordinator”. A phone call should be made first to the appropriate child protective agency and then to the Archdiocese of San Francisco Victim Assistance Coordinator, (415) 614-5506.
DETECTION OF CHILD ABUSE #
Child-care custodians, clergy, and other parish, school and agency employees and volunteers can play a critical role in the early detection of child abuse and neglect. Symptomatic signs of abuse and/or neglect, which may include injuries, listlessness, poor nutrition, disruptive behavior, absenteeism, or depression, are often first seen by such personnel. Immediate investigation of suspected abuse by child protective agencies and the designated Archdiocesan officials may save a child from repeated injuries. Therefore, personnel should not hesitate to report suspicious injuries or behavior. If in doubt, contact the appropriate person at the Chancery. The Archdiocese of San Francisco Victim Assistance Coordinator can be reached, as noted above, at (415) 614-5506. The mandated reporter’s duty is to report after being satisfied that there is reasonable suspicion of child abuse, not to conduct an exhaustive investigation.
CHART: WHOM TO CALL IF YOU SUSPECT CHILD ABUSE #
A phone call should be made to the appropriate child protective agency and then to the Archdiocese of
San Francisco Victim Assistance Coordinator, (415) 614-5506.
Anyone who has reason to believe or suspects that a child has been, or is being, abused should report their suspicions to civil authorities and to the Victim Assistance Coordinator. Investigation should be left to duly appointed professionals. (State law requires persons in certain positions called “mandated reporters” to make such reports. Others, called “ethical reporters” should do so).
Cases of alleged abuse in which the abuser and the victim are members of the same household are to be reported to Child Protective Services (CPS), while cases in which the alleged victim and the accused do not share a household should be reported to law enforcement authorities (Sheriff’s Department or City Police):
|MARIN||SAN FRANCISCO||SAN MATEO|
|Child Protective Services|
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Every allegation will be treated seriously and immediate steps taken to protect the alleged victim(s). These actions will be taken discretely so as to protect the confidentiality and the rights of both the victim and the accused.
Remember: All allegations of abuse involving clergy, employees, volunteers, or children attending Catholic schools, parish religious education programs, or other Church-related events should be reported first to civil authority and then to the Victim Assistance Coordinator (415) 614-5506.
Refer media questions and inquiries to the Director of the Archdiocesan Communications Office at the Chancery.
Upon receiving a report, the Victim Assistance Coordinator will ascertain whether civil authorities have been notified, and if they have not, will take immediate steps to do so. The Victim Assistance Coordinator will notify the Archbishop or his delegate and the appropriate Archdiocesan senior staff member(s), depending on the organizational placement of the alleged abuser, location where the abuse allegedly occurred, etc. As an example, in situations involving an allegation against a member of the clergy, the Vicar for Clergy will be notified. If the abuse allegedly took place at a school, or was allegedly done by a school staff member, the Superintendent of Catholic Schools will be notified. The Independent Review Board will be notified and if necessary, an investigation will be conducted by the Archdiocese through one of its independent investigators. The Victim Assistance Coordinator will be responsible for maintaining continuing contact with both the alleged victim and the alleged abuser.
TRAINING AND EDUCATION #
“Dioceses/eparchies are to maintain ‘safe environment’ programs which the diocesan/eparchial bishop deems to be in accord with Catholic moral principles. They are to be conducted cooperatively with parents, civil authorities, educators, and community organizations to provide education and training for minors, parents, ministers, employees, volunteers, and others about ways to sustain and foster a safe environment for minors. Dioceses/eparchies are to make clear to clergy and all members of the community the standards of conduct for clergy and other persons with regard to their contact with minors.”
CHILDREN, YOUTH AND PARENTS:
The Archdiocese of San Francisco meets the obligations of Article 12 for children and youth and for their parents, whether the child attends a Catholic school or a parish religious education program, by providing safe environment training, either in the classroom, on-line via the Internet, or by using a combination of the two, depending on the age of the participant and the type of instruction that works best in each case. Each child is to be offered training annually. See Appendix E for a listing of these programs and Appendix F for a description of each individual program. The programs utilize age-appropriate learning methods and information and are taught in our schools and in our parish programs of religious education (including Confirmation Preparation and other sacramental preparation classes.) Similar programs were originally promulgated by Archbishop Levada, prior Archbishop of San Francisco, and have been replaced, updated, and/or reaffirmed by Archbishop Niederauer and again by Archbishop Cordileone. These programs are periodically reviewed and updated as necessary by the Office of Child and Youth Protection and the Independent Review Board, and approved by the Archbishop. (See Appendix D, “Letter from Archbishop Cordileone regarding Promulgation of Education Programs.”)
CLERGY, EDUCATORS, EMPLOYEES, VOLUNTEERS AND OTHERS:
Adults who have contact with children on behalf of the Church are to be trained using an on-line program entitled “Protect in God’s Children”. This program (which replaced the SHIELD THE VULNERABLE programs) is available at www.virtus.org in both English and Spanish. For those who cannot complete the program using a computer, the program can be taught in a classroom setting in English, Spanish, Chinese or any other language prevalent in the Archdiocese when a need is demonstrated. Contact the Office of Child and Youth Protection at 415-606-5504 for more information. This training is to be repeated once every three years to maintain compliancy.
Please note: No one is to be given access to children on behalf of the Church without first having fulfilled this training requirement and any required background evaluation. Minors volunteering in an adult role are exempt from training and from background evaluation, but must be supervised at all times by an adult who is fully compliant with the Bishops’ Charter.
EVALUATION OF BACKGROUNDS #
“The diocesan/eparchial bishop is to evaluate the background of all incardinated priests and deacons. When a priest or deacon, not incardinated in the diocese/eparchy, is to engage in ministry in the diocese/eparchy, regardless of the length of time, the evaluation of his background may be satisfied through a written attestation of suitability for ministry supplied by his proper ordinary/major superior to the diocese/eparchy. Dioceses/eparchies are to evaluate the background of all their respective diocesan/eparchial and parish/school or other paid personnel and volunteers whose duties include contact with minors. Specifically, they are to utilize the resources of law enforcement and other community agencies. Each diocese/eparchy is to determine the application/renewal of background checks according to local practice. In addition, they are to employ adequate screening and evaluative techniques in deciding the fitness of candidates for ordination (cf. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Program of Priestly Formation [Fifth Edition], 2006, no. 39)”.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco uses background evaluation in addition to letters of reference from former employers and personal references.
ELECTRONIC FINGERPRINTING (Live Scan):
While the Charter only requires each diocese to “evaluate the background” of those who have “ongoing, unsupervised contact with minors”, California law requires that all certificated teachers and all other school employees have their backgrounds evaluated using electronic finger-printing. The Archdiocese requires all clergy and clergy candidates, as well as certain employees and/or volunteers based on the frequency or intensity of their contact with minors, to be finger-printed as well. The information returned in this type of background evaluation may not be superior to that developed in other types of evaluations, but the relationship of the information to the identified person is more assured as it is related to fingerprints that are not duplicated from one person to another. Electronic fingerprinting also makes possible “Subsequent Arrest Reports” so that once fingerprinted, any subsequent criminal activity will be reported to the Archdiocese. This makes the process somewhat “self-renewing”.
If clergy are ministering in no capacity whatsoever and have no contact with minors, due to illness or age, they are exempt from the fingerprint requirement.
PARISH AND SCHOOL COMPLIANCE CHECKLIST #
Pastors and principals will:
- Use the list of mandated education programs (Appendices E and F), and ensure that every child in each grade level in our School, Religious Education or sacrament preparation programs is offered instruction each year regarding personal safety (including child abuse safety concepts). They will encourage all parents to take the courses being taught to their children.
- Before hiring employees, or allowing volunteers to serve in a regular, ongoing position overseeing the activities of children or youth, the parish or school will ensure that the applicant has completed the applicable adult training program (required by Article 12 of the Charter) and had their background evaluated (Article 13 of the Charter) if required. The Archdiocese has worked with VIRTUS to provide a very simple way of doing this.
- Each applicant for becoming an employee or volunteer is to be told to register on the www.virtus website, and must retake the training offered through VIRTUS once every three years. Individuals should be reminded that they are to be working with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, the name of the parish or school for which they will work, and the broad name for the work that they will be doing, as these are answers to the questions asked as part of the registration process. (One of the most frequent errors using this system is a person will enter that they are a volunteer (or employee) for the parish, when they are actually working with the school, or vice-versa).
- All that remains for the individual is to take that form to a Live Scan site to have their prints “rolled.” The reporting agencies for Fingerprints report the results to the Archdiocese electronically. The results are posted in the VIRTUS database, where they are available to local site STV administrators. Should a paper form become necessary (normally it should not), those forms can be found under “RESOURCES” on the VIRTUS website, along with a list of every Live Scan site location in the State of California.
- The Office of Child and Youth Protection will notify the pastor (and principal in the case of a school) by letter if the person is disqualified or is to have their activity restricted in some way. No reason will be given; this is to protect confidentiality and is required by law. The individual should be provided this notification and advised to call the Office of Child and Youth Protection at (415) 614-5504 if they have questions or would like additional information.
- Once the Background Evaluation steps have been completed the individual will be given an opportunity to complete the adult training program, “Protect Children” on the same website. It is possible to continue until completion, which takes approximately 1 ½ hours depending on reading speed, or it is also possible to log out and complete the course later. If this latter option is chosen, the program “bookmarks” where the individual was when he or she logged out, and places them back there when they return. This may be done as many times as necessary. Once the training is completed, a certificate of completion is printed, and the website updates its database to reflect the date the completion date.
- It is the pastor’s (or principal’s) responsibility to ensure the data in the database is kept up to date. To assist in that process, the pastor (or principal) may appoint trusted individuals to be STV Administrators. These people are given access to the data for their location (and only their location) and can update it. Pastors and principals are automatically made STV Administrators and have access to their data.
For help in using the VIRTUS website, or to report difficulties with the website, call MEMBER SERVICES or
email [email protected] In addition, staff in the Vicar for Clergy office is available to clergy for assistance with this safe environment program. Please call 415-614-5611 with your questions.
DATABASE MAINTENANCE & REPORTING #
The data that resides in the VIRTUS database is the property of parishes and schools of the Archdiocese. The Office of Child and Youth Protection acts as custodian of the data and provides a small amount of data entry and management. The centralization of data management makes the effort more effective and efficient. This efficiency is enhanced because each individual enters their own data, reducing copy errors.
Pastors (and principals) are responsible to act as managers of the data for their location(s). While the effort required to keep the data up to date may be delegated to employees and volunteers, known as STV Administrators, the accuracy and currency of the data is the responsibility of the pastor. In schools not associated with a parish (currently, the high schools and Saint Thomas More and Saint Brigid Elementary Schools) that responsibility lies with the principal who is accountable to the Department of Catholic Schools.
Sources of data are: the information entered by individuals during the registration process and the results of background evaluations provided electronically to the Office of Child and Youth Protection by the California Department of Justice and the FBI and the Background Checking firm; VIRTUS (training data postings); and corrections made by the parish, school, agency, or by the Office of Child and Youth Protection.
The Archdiocese has established audit procedures to ensure compliance with the Charter by parishes, schools and agencies. In addition, the USCCB Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection has contracted with an outside firm to audit one-third of all dioceses/eparchies each year via an on-site audit. They will audit the other two-thirds of the dioceses and eparchies with a “paper audit” which examines information provided by the diocese or eparchy without an on-site visit. On-site audits may include visits to parishes and schools and all audits will address quantitative issues and qualitative ones. The intent will be to determine whether the parish, school or Archdiocese is doing a comprehensive and quality job of (1) creating and maintaining a safe environment for children, (2) keeping all involved abreast of current issues, and (3) ensuring the Archdiocese is compliant with its own policies and with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
This process is undertaken to assist parishes and schools with the compliance process, to help the Office of Child and Youth Protection to remedy weaknesses in the system, and to ensure that our environment is safe for our children. This process will be on-going throughout the year and will be done in two ways.
- A review of the components of Charter compliance will be a regular part of the Parish Policies and Procedures Consultation done by the Archdiocesan Legal Office. This process calls for an on-site visit once every three years and a paper self-review by the parish or school in each of the two intervening years. The Legal Office and the Office of Child and Youth Protection will utilize surveys and interviews as well as on-site visual checking of records to ensure Charter compliance. These reviews are scheduled and the parish or school is made aware of when it is to be visited. These reviews will be done with the current date as the “effective date,” in contrast to the USCCB audit which is done for the previous July 1 through June 30 of the current year.
- In addition, visits to parishes and/or schools will be conducted by the Office of Child and Youth Protection. The schedule of these visits will not be published in advance.
This audit is normally done once every three years by on-site auditors and in the two intervening years it is done by a review of reports provided to the auditors by the Archdiocese. The on-site audit is normally scheduled to take a full week and may include visits to parishes and schools.
The purpose of the audits and reviews at all levels is to determine whether the Archdiocese’s policies and procedures are compliant with, and supportive of, the Bishop’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and whether each of our parishes, schools and other agencies is in the high nineties of per cent compliant. Quantitatively, this is a review of the percentage of children and adults who have been trained and the percentage of adults who have had their background evaluated. Qualitatively, the education programs are reviewed and the Archdiocese’s record-keeping systems are examined.
Since 2002, the Church in the United States has experienced a crisis without precedent in our times. The sexual abuse1 of children and young people by some deacons, priests, and bishops, and the ways in which these crimes and sins were addressed, have caused enormous pain, anger, and confusion for victims, their families, and the entire Church. As bishops, we have acknowledged our mistakes and our roles in that suffering, and we apologize and take responsibility again for too often failing victims and the Catholic people in the past. From the depths of our hearts, we bishops express great sorrow and profound regret for what the Catholic people have endured.
We share Pope Francis’ “conviction that everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused” (Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences and Superiors of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life Concerning the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, February 2, 2015).
Again, with this 2018 revision of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, we re-affirm our deep commitment to sustain and strengthen a safe environment within the Church for children and youth. We have listened to the profound pain and suffering of those victimized by sexual abuse and will continue to respond to their cries. We have agonized over the sinfulness, the criminality, and the breach of trust perpetrated by some members of the clergy. We have determined as best we can the extent of the problem of this abuse of minors by clergy in our country, as well as its causes and context. We will use what we have learned to strengthen the protection given to the children and young people in our care.
We continue to have a special care for and a commitment to reaching out to the victims of sexual abuse and their families. The damage caused by sexual abuse of minors is devastating and longlasting. We apologize to each victim for the grave harm that has been inflicted on him or her, and we offer our help now and for the future. The loss of trust that is often the consequence of such abuse becomes even more tragic when it leads to a loss of the faith that we have a sacred duty to foster. We make our own the words of St. John Paul II: that the sexual abuse of young people is “by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God” (Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers, April 23, 2002). We will continue to help victims recover from these crimes and strive to prevent these tragedies from occurring.
Along with the victims and their families, the entire Catholic community in this country has suffered because of this scandal and its consequences. The intense public scrutiny of the minority of the ordained who have betrayed their calling has caused the vast majority of faithful priests and deacons to experience enormous vulnerability to being misunderstood in their ministry and often casts over them an undeserved air of suspicion. We share with all priests and deacons a firm commitment to renewing the integrity of the vocation to Holy Orders so that it will continue to be perceived as a life of service to others after the example of Christ our Lord.
We, who have been given the responsibility of shepherding God’s people, will, with his help and in full collaboration with all the faithful, continue to work to restore the bonds of trust that unite us. We have seen that words alone cannot accomplish this goal. We will continue to take action in our Plenary Assembly and at home in our dioceses and eparchies.
We feel a particular responsibility for “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) which God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, has given us. The love of Christ impels us to ask forgiveness for our own faults but also to appeal to all—to those who have been victimized, to those who have offended, and to all who have felt the wound of this scandal—to be reconciled to God and one another.
Perhaps in a way never before experienced, we feel the power of sin touch our entire Church family in this country; but as St. Paul boldly says, God made Christ “to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). May we who have known sin experience as well, through a spirit of reconciliation, God’s own righteousness. We know that after such profound hurt, healing and reconciliation are beyond human capacity alone. It is God’s grace and mercy that will lead us forward, trusting Christ’s promise: “for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).
In working toward fulfilling this responsibility, we rely, first of all, on Almighty God to sustain us in faith and in the discernment of the right course to take.
We receive fraternal guidance and support from the Holy See that sustains us in this time of trial. In solidarity with Pope Francis, we express heartfelt love and sorrow for the victims of abuse.
We rely on the Catholic faithful of the United States. Nationally and in each diocese/eparchy, the wisdom and expertise of clergy, religious, and laity contribute immensely to confronting the effects of the crisis and taking steps to resolve it. We are filled with gratitude for their great faith, for their generosity, and for the spiritual and moral support that we receive from them.
We acknowledge and re-affirm the faithful service of the vast majority of our priests and deacons and the love that people have for them. They deservedly have our esteem and that of the Catholic people for their good work. It is regrettable that their committed ministerial witness has been overshadowed by this crisis.
In a special way, we acknowledge and thank victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families who have trusted us enough to share their stories and to help us understand more fully the consequences of this reprehensible violation of sacred trust. With Pope Francis, we praise the courage of those who speak out about their abuse; their actions are “a service of love, since for us it sheds light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church.” We pray that “the remnants of the darkness which touch them may be healed” (Address to Victims of Sexual Abuse, July 7, 2014).
Let there now be no doubt or confusion on anyone’s part: For us, your bishops, our obligation to protect children and young people and to prevent sexual abuse flows from the mission and example given to us by Jesus Christ himself, in whose name we serve.
As we work to restore trust, we are reminded how Jesus showed constant care for the vulnerable. He inaugurated his ministry with these words of the Prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. (Lk 4:18-19)
In Matthew 25, the Lord, in his commission to his apostles and disciples, told them that whenever they show mercy and compassion to the least ones, they show it to him.
Jesus extended this care in a tender and urgent way to children, rebuking his disciples for keeping them away from him: “Let the children come to me” (Mt 19:14). And he uttered a grave warning that for anyone who would lead the little ones astray, it would be better for such a person “to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6).
We hear these words of the Lord as prophetic for this moment. With a firm determination to restore the bonds of trust, we bishops recommit ourselves to a continual pastoral outreach to repair the breach with those who have suffered sexual abuse and with all the people of the Church.
In this spirit, over the last sixteen years, the principles and procedures of the Charter have been integrated into church life.
- The Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection provides the focus for a consistent, ongoing, and comprehensive approach to creating a safe environment for young people throughout the Church in the United States.
- The Secretariat also provides the means for us to be accountable for achieving the goals of the Charter, as demonstrated by its annual reports on the implementation of the Charter based on independent compliance audits.
- The National Review Board is carrying on its responsibility to assist in the assessment of diocesan/eparchial compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
- The descriptive study of the nature and scope of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the United States, commissioned by the National Review Board, was completed in February 2004. The resulting study, examining the historical period 1950-2002, by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice provides us with a powerful tool not only to examine our past but also to secure our future against such misconduct.
- The U.S. bishops charged the National Review Board to oversee the completion of the Causes and Context study. The Study, which calls for ongoing education, situational prevention, and oversight and accountability, was completed in 2011.
- Victims’ assistance coordinators are in place throughout our nation to assist dioceses and eparchies in responding to the pastoral needs of the abused.
- Diocesan/eparchial bishops in every diocese/eparchy are advised and greatly assisted by diocesan and eparchial review boards as the bishops make the decisions needed to fulfill the Charter.
- Safe environment programs are in place to assist parents and children—and those who work with children—in preventing harm to young people. These programs continually seek to incorporate the most useful developments in the field of child protection.
Through these steps and many others, we remain committed to the safety of our children and young people.
While the number of reported cases of sexual abuse has decreased over the last sixteen years, the harmful effects of this abuse continue to be experienced both by victims and dioceses/eparchies.
Thus it is with a vivid sense of the effort which is still needed to confront the effects of this crisis fully and with the wisdom gained by the experience of the last sixteen years that we have reviewed and revised the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. We now reaffirm that we will assist in the healing of those who have been injured, will do all in our power to protect children and young people, and will work with our clergy, religious, and laity to restore trust and harmony in our faith communities, as we pray for the Kingdom of God to come, here on earth, as it is in heaven.
To make effective our goals of a safe environment within the Church for children and young people and of preventing sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the future, we, the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have outlined in this Charter a series of practical and pastoral steps, and we commit ourselves to taking them in our dioceses and eparchies.
To Promote Healing and Reconciliation with Victims/Survivors of Sexual Abuse of Minors
ARTICLE 1. Dioceses/eparchies are to reach out to victims/survivors and their families and demonstrate a sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being. The first obligation of the Church with regard to the victims is for healing and reconciliation. Each diocese/eparchy is to continue its outreach to every person who has been the victim of sexual abuse as a minor by anyone in church service, whether the abuse was recent or occurred many years in the past. This outreach may include provision of counseling, spiritual assistance, support groups, and other social services agreed upon by the victim and the diocese/eparchy.
Through pastoral outreach to victims and their families, the diocesan/eparchial bishop or his representative is to offer to meet with them, to listen with patience and compassion to their experiences and concerns, and to share the “profound sense of solidarity and concern” expressed by St. John Paul II, in his Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers (April 23, 2002). Pope Benedict XVI, too, in his address to the U.S. bishops in 2008 said of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, “It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.
We bishops and eparchs commit ourselves to work as one with our brother priests and deacons to foster reconciliation among all people in our dioceses/eparchies. We especially commit ourselves to work with those individuals who were themselves abused and the communities that have suffered because of the sexual abuse of minors that occurred in their midst.
ARTICLE 2. Dioceses/eparchies are to have policies and procedures in place to respond promptly to any allegation where there is reason to believe that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred. Dioceses/eparchies are to have a competent person or persons to coordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care of persons who report having been sexually abused as minors by clergy or other church personnel. The procedures for those making a complaint are to be readily available in printed form and other media in the principal languages in which the liturgy is celebrated in the diocese/eparchy and be the subject of public announcements at least annually.
Dioceses/eparchies are also to have a review board that functions as a confidential consultative body to the bishop/eparch. The majority of its members are to be lay persons not in the employ of the diocese/eparchy (see Norm 5 in Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, 2006). This board is to advise the diocesan/eparchial bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of a cleric’s suitability for ministry. It is regularly to review diocesan/eparchial policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors. Also, the board can review these matters both retrospectively and prospectively and give advice on all aspects of responses in connection with these cases.
ARTICLE 3. Dioceses/eparchies are not to enter into settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality, unless the victim/survivor requests confidentiality and this request is noted in the text of the agreement.
To Guarantee an Effective Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors
ARTICLE 4. Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities with due regard for the seal of the Sacrament of Penance. Diocesan/eparchial personnel are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question.
Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor.
In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right.
ARTICLE 5. We affirm the words of St. John Paul II, in his Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers: “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.” Pope Francis has consistently reiterated this with victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is a crime in the universal law of the Church (CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1). Because of the seriousness of this matter, jurisdiction has been reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, AAS 93, 2001). Sexual abuse of a minor is also a crime in all civil jurisdictions in the United States.
Diocesan/eparchial policy is to provide that for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor— whenever it occurred— which is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon is to be permanently removed from ministry and, if warranted, dismissed from the clerical state. In keeping with the stated purpose of this Charter, an offending priest or deacon is to be offered therapeutic professional assistance both for the purpose of prevention and also for his own healing and well-being.
The diocesan/eparchial bishop is to exercise his power of governance, within the parameters of the universal law of the Church, to ensure that any priest or deacon subject to his governance who has committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor as described below (see notes) shall not continue in ministry.
A priest or deacon who is accused of sexual abuse of a minor is to be accorded the presumption of innocence during the investigation of the allegation and all appropriate steps are to be taken to protect his reputation. He is to be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel. If the allegation is deemed not substantiated, every step possible is to be taken to restore his good name, should it have been harmed.
In fulfilling this article, dioceses/eparchies are to follow the requirements of the universal law of the Church and of the Essential Norms approved for the United States.
ARTICLE 6. There are to be clear and well publicized diocesan/eparchial standards of ministerial behavior and appropriate boundaries for clergy and for any other paid personnel and volunteers of the Church with regard to their contact with minors.
ARTICLE 7. Dioceses/eparchies are to be open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved. This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by sexual abuse of a minor.
To Ensure the Accountability of Our Procedures
ARTICLE 8. The Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People is a standing committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its membership is to include representation from all the episcopal regions of the country, with new appointments staggered to maintain continuity in the effort to protect children and youth.
The Committee is to advise the USCCB on all matters related to child and youth protection and is to oversee the development of the plans, programs, and budget of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection. It is to provide the USCCB with comprehensive planning and recommendations concerning child and youth protection by coordinating the efforts of the Secretariat and the National Review Board.
ARTICLE 9. The Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, established by the Conference of Catholic Bishops, is to staff the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People and be a resource for dioceses/eparchies for the implementation of “safe environment” programs and for suggested training and development of diocesan personnel responsible for child and youth protection programs, taking into account the financial and other resources, as well as the population, area, and demographics of the diocese/eparchy.
The Secretariat is to produce an annual public report on the progress made in implementing and maintaining the standards in this Charter. The report is to be based on an annual audit process whose method, scope, and cost are to be approved by the Administrative Committee on the recommendation of the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People. This public report is to include the names of those dioceses/eparchies which the audit shows are not in compliance with the provisions and expectations of the Charter. The audit method refers to the process and techniques used to determine compliance with the Charter. The audit scope relates to the focus, parameters, and time period for the matters to be examined during an individual audit.
As a member of the Conference staff, the Executive Director of the Secretariat is appointed by and reports to the General Secretary. The Executive Director is to provide the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People and the National Review Board with regular reports of the Secretariat’s activities.
ARTICLE 10. The whole Church, at both the diocesan/eparchial and national levels, must be engaged in maintaining safe environments in the Church for children and young people.
The Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People is to be assisted by the National Review Board, a consultative body established in 2002 by the USCCB. The Board will review the annual report of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection on the implementation of this Charter in each diocese/eparchy and any recommendations that emerge from it, and offer its own assessment regarding its approval and publication to the Conference President.
The Board will also advise the Conference President on future members. The Board members are appointed by the Conference President in consultation with the Administrative Committee and are accountable to him and to the USCCB Executive Committee. Before a candidate is contacted, the Conference President is to seek and obtain, in writing, the endorsement of the candidate’s diocesan bishop. The Board is to operate in accord with the statutes and bylaws of the USCCB and within procedural guidelines developed by the Board in consultation with the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People and approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee. These guidelines set forth such matters as the Board’s purpose and responsibility, officers, terms of office, and frequency of reports to the Conference President on its activities.
The Board will offer its advice as it collaborates with the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People on matters of child and youth protection, specifically on policies and best practices. For example, the Board will continue to monitor the recommendations derived from the Causes and Context study. The Board and Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People will meet jointly every year.
The Board will review the work of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and make recommendations to the Executive Director. It will assist the Executive Director in the development of resources for dioceses.
ARTICLE 11. The President of the Conference is to inform the Holy See of this revised Charter to indicate the manner in which we, the Catholic bishops, together with the entire Church in the United States, intend to continue our commitment to the protection of children and young people. The President is also to share with the Holy See the annual reports on the implementation of the Charter.
To Protect the Faithful in the Future
ARTICLE 12. Dioceses/eparchies are to maintain “safe environment” programs which the diocesan/eparchial bishop deems to be in accord with Catholic moral principles. They are to be conducted cooperatively with parents, civil authorities, educators, and community organizations to provide education and training for minors, parents, ministers, employees, volunteers, and others about ways to sustain and foster a safe environment for minors. Dioceses/eparchies are to make clear to clergy and all members of the community the standards of conduct for clergy and other persons with regard to their contact with minors.
ARTICLE 13. The diocesan/eparchial bishop is to evaluate the background of all incardinated priests and deacons. When a priest or deacon, not incardinated in the diocese/eparchy, is to engage in ministry in the diocese/eparchy, regardless of the length of time, the evaluation of his background may be satisfied through a written attestation of suitability for ministry supplied by his proper ordinary/major superior to the diocese/eparchy. Dioceses/eparchies are to evaluate the background of all their respective diocesan/eparchial and parish/school or other paid personnel and volunteers whose duties include contact with minors. Specifically, they are to utilize the resources of law enforcement and other community agencies. Each diocese/eparchy is to determine the application/renewal of background checks according to local practice. In addition, they are to employ adequate screening and evaluative techniques in deciding the fitness of candidates for ordination (see USCCB, Program of Priestly Formation [Fifth Edition], 2006, no. 39 and the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, n.178 j).
ARTICLE 14. Transfers of all priests and deacons who have committed an act of sexual abuse against a minor for residence, including retirement, shall be in accord with Norm 12 of the Essential Norms (see Proposed Guidelines on the Transfer or Assignment of Clergy and Religious, adopted by the USCCB, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men [CMSM], the Leadership Conference of Women Religious [LCWR], and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious [CMSWR] in 1993).
ARTICLE 15. To ensure continuing collaboration and mutuality of effort in the protection of children and young people on the part of the bishops and religious ordinaries, two representatives of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men are to serve as consultants to the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People. At the invitation of the Major Superiors, the Committee will designate two of its members to consult with its counterpart at CMSM. Diocesan/eparchial bishops and major superiors of clerical institutes or their delegates are to meet periodically to coordinate their roles concerning the issue of allegations made against a cleric member of a religious institute ministering in a diocese/eparchy.
ARTICLE 16. Given the extent of the problem of the sexual abuse of minors in our society, we are willing to cooperate with other churches and ecclesial communities, other religious bodies, institutions of learning, and other interested organizations in conducting research in this area.
ARTICLE 17. We commit ourselves to work individually in our dioceses/eparchies and together as a Conference, through the appropriate committees, to strengthen our programs both for initial priestly and diaconal formation and their ongoing formation. With renewed urgency, we will promote programs of human formation for chastity and celibacy for both seminarians and priests based upon the criteria found in Pastores dabo vobis, no. 50, the Program of Priestly Formation, and the Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests, as well as similar, appropriate programs for deacons based upon the criteria found in the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. We will continue to assist priests, deacons, and seminarians in living out their vocation in faithful and integral ways.
As we wrote in 2002, “It is within this context of the essential soundness of the priesthood and of the deep faith of our brothers and sisters in the Church that we know that we can meet and resolve this crisis for now and the future.”
We reaffirm that the vast majority of priests and deacons serve their people faithfully and that they have their esteem and affection. They also have our respect and support and our commitment to their good names and wellbeing.
An essential means of dealing with the crisis is prayer for healing and reconciliation, and acts of reparation for the grave offense to God and the deep wound inflicted upon his holy people. Closely connected to prayer and acts of reparation is the call to holiness of life and the care of the diocesan/eparchial bishop to ensure that he and his priests and deacons avail themselves of the proven ways of avoiding sin and growing in holiness of life.
It is with reliance on the grace of God and in a spirit of prayer and penance that we renew the pledges which we made in the 2002 Charter:
We pledge most solemnly to one another and to you, God’s people, that we will work to our utmost for the protection of children and youth.
We pledge that we will devote to this goal the resources and personnel necessary to accomplish it.
We pledge that we will do our best to ordain to the diaconate and priesthood and put into positions of trust only those who share this commitment to protecting children and youth.
We pledge that we will work toward healing and reconciliation for those sexually abused by clerics.
Much has been done to honor these pledges. We devoutly pray that God who has begun this good work in us will bring it to fulfillment.
This Charter is published for the dioceses/eparchies of the United States. It is to be reviewed again after seven years by the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People with the advice of the National Review Board. The results of this review are to be presented to the full Conference of Bishops for confirmation. Authoritative interpretations of its provisions are reserved to the Conference of Bishops.
For purposes of this Charter, the offense of sexual abuse of a minor will be understood in accord with the
provisions of Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (SST), article 6, which reads:
§1. The more grave delicts against morals which are reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are:
1o the delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years; in this case, a person who habitually lacks the use of reason is to be considered equivalent to a minor.
2o the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology; §2. A cleric who commits the delicts mentioned above in §1 is to be punished according to the gravity of his crime, not excluding dismissal or deposition.
In view of the Circular Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated May 3, 2011, which calls for “mak[ing] allowance for the legislation of the country where the Conference is located,” Section III(g), we will apply the federal legal age for defining child pornography, which includes pornographic images of minors under the age of eighteen, for assessing a cleric’s suitability for ministry and for complying with civil reporting statutes. If there is any doubt whether a specific act qualifies as an external, objectively grave violation, the writings of recognized moral theologians should be consulted, and the opinions of recognized experts should be appropriately obtained (Canonical Delicts Involving Sexual Misconduct and Dismissal from the Clerical State, 1995, p. 6). Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop/eparch, with the advice of a qualified review board, to determine the gravity of the alleged act.
In 2009, after consultation with members of the USCCB Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and approval from the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, additional Model Letters of Suitability, now available on the USCCB website, were agreed upon and published for use by bishops and major superiors in situations which involve both temporary and extended ministry for clerics.
DECREE OF PROMULGATION
On November 13, 2002, the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved as particular law the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons. Following the grant of the required recognitio by the Congregation for Bishops on December 8, 2002, the Essential Norms were promulgated by the President of the same Conference on December 12, 2002.
Thereafter, on June 17, 2005, the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a revised text of the Essential Norms. By a decree dated January 1, 2006, and signed by His Eminence, Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and His Excellency, the Most Reverend Francesco Monterisi, Secretary of the same Congregation, the recognitio originally granted to the Essential Norms of 2002 was extended to the revised version donec aliter provideatur.
As President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I therefore decree the promulgation of the Essential Norms of June 17, 2005. These Norms shall obtain force on May 15, 2006, and so shall from that day bind as particular law all Dioceses and Eparchies of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Most Reverend William S. Skylstad Bishop of Spokane President, USCCB
Reverend Monsignor David J. Malloy General Secretary
On June 14, 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter addresses the Church’s commitment to deal appropriately and effectively with cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons, and other church personnel (i.e., employees and volunteers). The bishops of the United States have promised to reach out to those who have been sexually abused as minors by anyone serving the Church in ministry, employment, or a volunteer position, whether the sexual abuse was recent or occurred many years ago. They stated that they would be as open as possible with the people in parishes and communities about instances of sexual abuse of minors, with respect always for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved. They have committed themselves to the pastoral and spiritual care and emotional well-being of those who have been sexually abused and of their families.
In addition, the bishops will work with parents, civil authorities, educators, and various organizations in the community to make and maintain the safest environment for minors. In the same way, the bishops have pledged to evaluate the background of seminary applicants as well as all church personnel who have responsibility for the care and supervision of children and young people.
Therefore, to ensure that each diocese/eparchy in the United States of America will have procedures in place to respond promptly to all allegations of sexual abuse of minors, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops decrees these norms for diocesan/eparchial policies dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by diocesan and religious priests or deacons.1 These norms are complementary to the universal law of the Church and are to be interpreted in accordance with that law. The Church has traditionally considered the sexual abuse of minors a grave delict and punishes the offender with penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.
For purposes of these Norms, sexual abuse shall include any offense by a cleric against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue with a minor as understood in CIC, canon 1395 §2, and CCEO, canon 1453 §1 (Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, article 6 §1).2
1. These Essential Norms have been granted recognitio by the Holy See. Having been legitimately promulgated in accordance with the practice of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on May 5, 2006, they constitute particular law for all the dioceses/eparchies of the United States of America.3
2. Each diocese/eparchy will have a written policy on the sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons, as well as by other church personnel. This policy is to comply fully with, and is to specify in more detail, the steps to be taken in implementing the requirements of canon law, particularly CIC, canons 1717-1719, and CCEO, canons 1468-1470. A copy of this policy will be filed with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops within three months of the effective date of these norms. Copies of any eventual revisions of the written diocesan/eparchial policy are also to be filed with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops within three months of such modifications.
3. Each diocese/eparchy will designate a competent person to coordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care of persons who claim to have been sexually abused when they were minors by priests or deacons.
4. To assist diocesan/eparchial bishops, each diocese/eparchy will also have a review board which will function as a confidential consultative body to the bishop/eparch in discharging his responsibilities. The functions of this board may include
a. advising the diocesan bishop/eparch in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of suitability for ministry;
b. reviewing diocesan/eparchial policies for dealing with sexual abuse of minors; and
c. offering advice on all aspects of these cases, whether retrospectively or prospectively.
5. The review board, established by the diocesan/eparchial bishop, will be composed of at least five persons of outstanding integrity and good judgment in full communion with the Church. The majority of the review board members will be lay persons who are not in the employ of the diocese/eparchy; but at least one member should be a priest who is an experienced and respected pastor of the diocese/eparchy in question, and at least one member should have particular expertise in the treatment of the sexual abuse of minors. The members will be appointed for a term of five years, which can be renewed. It is desirable that the Promoter of Justice participate in the meetings of the review board.
6. When an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon is received, a preliminary investigation in accordance with canon law will be initiated and conducted promptly and objectively (CIC, c. 1717; CCEO, c. 1468). During the investigation the accused enjoys the presumption of innocence, and all appropriate steps shall be taken to protect his reputation. The accused will be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel and will be promptly notified of the results of the investigation. When there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith shall be notified. The bishop/eparch shall then apply the precautionary measures mentioned in CIC, canon 1722, or CCEO, canon 1473—i.e., withdraw the accused from exercising the sacred ministry or any ecclesiastical office or function, impose or prohibit residence in a given place or territory, and prohibit public participation in the Most Holy Eucharist pending the outcome of the process.
7. The alleged offender may be requested to seek, and may be urged voluntarily to comply with, an appropriate medical and psychological evaluation at a facility mutually acceptable to the diocese/eparchy and to the accused.
8. When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants (SST, Art. 6; CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1).
a. In every case involving canonical penalties, the processes provided for in canon law must be observed, and the various provisions of canon law must be considered (cf. Canonical Delicts Involving Sexual Misconduct and Dismissal from the Clerical State, 1995; Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 18, 2001). Unless the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having been notified, calls the case to itself because of special circumstances, it will direct the diocesan bishop/eparch to proceed (Article 13, “Procedural Norms” for Motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, AAS, 93, 2001, p. 787). If the case would otherwise be barred by prescription, because sexual abuse of a minor is a grave offense, the bishop/eparch may apply to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a derogation from the prescription, while indicating relevant grave reasons. For the sake of canonical due process, the accused is to be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel. When necessary, the diocese/eparchy will supply canonical counsel to a priest. The provisions of CIC, canon 1722, or CCEO, canon 1473, shall be implemented during the pendency of the penal process.
b. If the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has not been applied (e.g., for reasons of advanced age or infirmity), the offender ought to lead a life of prayer and penance. He will not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to administer the sacraments. He is to be instructed not to wear clerical garb, or to present himself publicly as a priest.
9. At all times, the diocesan bishop/eparch has the executive power of governance, within the parameters of the universal law of the Church, through an administrative act, to remove an offending cleric from office, to remove or restrict his faculties, and to limit his exercise of priestly ministry.6 Because sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is a crime in the universal law of the Church (CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1) and is a crime in all civil jurisdictions in the United States, for the sake of the common good and observing the provisions of canon law, the diocesan bishop/eparch shall exercise this power of governance to ensure that any priest or deacon who has committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor as described above shall not continue in active ministry.
10. The priest or deacon may at any time request a dispensation from the obligations of the clerical state. In exceptional cases, the bishop/eparch may request of the Holy Father the dismissal of the priest or deacon from the clerical state ex officio, even without the consent of the priest or deacon.
11. The diocese/eparchy will comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and will cooperate in their investigation. In every instance, the diocese/eparchy will advise and support a person’s right to make a report to public authorities.
12. No priest or deacon who has committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor may be transferred for a ministerial assignment in another diocese/eparchy. Every bishop/eparch who receives a priest or deacon from outside his jurisdiction will obtain the necessary information regarding any past act of sexual abuse of a minor by the priest or deacon in question.
Before such a diocesan/eparchial priest or deacon can be transferred for residence to another diocese/eparchy, his diocesan/eparchial bishop shall forward, in a confidential manner, to the bishop of the proposed place of residence any and all information concerning any act of sexual abuse of a minor and any other information indicating that he has been or may be a danger to children or young people.
In the case of the assignment for residence of such a clerical member of an institute or a society into a local community within a diocese/eparchy, the major superior shall inform the diocesan/eparchial bishop and share with him in a manner respecting the limitations of confidentiality found in canon and civil law all information concerning any act of sexual abuse of a minor and any other information indicating that he has been or may be a danger to children or young people so that the bishop/eparch can make an informed judgment that suitable safeguards are in place for the protection of children and young people. This will be done with due recognition of the legitimate authority of the bishop/eparch; of the provisions of CIC, canon 678 (CCEO, canons 415 §1 and 554 §2), and of CIC, canon 679; and of the autonomy of the religious life (CIC, c. 586).
13. Care will always be taken to protect the rights of all parties involved, particularly those of the person claiming to have been sexually abused and of the person against whom the charge has been made. When an accusation has been shown to be unfounded, every step possible will be taken to restore the good name of the person falsely accused.
- These Norms constitute particular law for the dioceses, eparchies, clerical religious institutes, and societies of apostolic life of the United States with respect to all priests and deacons in the ecclesiastical ministry of the Church in the United States. When a major superior of a clerical religious institute or society of apostolic life applies and interprets them for the internal life and governance of the institute or society, he has the obligation to do so according to the universal law of the Church and the proper law of the institute or society.
- If there is any doubt whether a specific act qualifies as an external, objectively grave violation, the writings of recognized moral theologians should be consulted, and the opinions of recognized experts should be appropriately obtained (Canonical Delicts, p. 6). Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop/eparch, with the advice of a qualified review board, to determine the gravity of the alleged act.
- Due regard must be given to the proper legislative authority of each Eastern Catholic Church.
- Article 19 Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela states, “With due regard for the right of the Ordinary to impose from the outset of the preliminary investigation those measures which are established in can. 1722 of the Code of Canon Law, or in can. 1473 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the respective presiding judge may, at the request of the Promoter of Justice, exercise the same power under the same conditions determined in the canons themselves.”
- Removal from ministry is required whether or not the cleric is diagnosed by qualified experts as a pedophile or as suffering from a related sexual disorder that requires professional treatment. With regard to the use of the phrase “ecclesiastical ministry,” by clerical members of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, the provisions of canons 678 and 738 also apply, with due regard for canons 586 and 732.
- Cf. CIC, cc. 35-58, 149, 157, 187-189, 192-195, 277 §3, 381 §1, 383, 391, 1348, and 1740-1747. Cf. also CCEO, cc. 1510 §1 and 2, 1°-2°, 1511, 1512 §§1-2, 1513 §§2-3 and 5, 1514-1516, 1517 §1, 1518, 1519 §2, 1520 §§1-3, 1521, 1522 §1, 1523-1526, 940, 946, 967-971, 974-977, 374, 178, 192 §§1-3, 193 §2, 191, and 1389-1396.
- The diocesan bishop/eparch may exercise his executive power of governance to take one or more of the following administrative actions (CIC, cc. 381, 129ff.; CCEO, cc. 178, 979ff.):
a. He may request that the accused freely resign from any currently held ecclesiastical office (CIC, cc. 187-189; CCEO, cc. 967-971).
b. Should the accused decline to resign and should the diocesan bishop/eparch judge the accused to be truly not suitable (CIC, c. 149 §1; CCEO, c. 940) at this time for holding an office previously freely conferred (CIC, c. 157), then he may remove that person from office observing the required canonical procedures (CIC, cc. 192-195, 1740-1747; CCEO, cc. 974-977, 1389-1396).
c. For a cleric who holds no office in the diocese/eparchy, any previously delegated faculties may be administratively removed (CIC, cc. 391 §1 and 142 §1; CCEO, cc. 191 §1 and 992 §1), while any de iure faculties may be removed or restricted by the competent authority as provided in law (e.g., CIC, c. 764; CCEO, c. 610 §§2-3).
d. The diocesan bishop/eparch may also determine that circumstances surrounding a particular case constitute the just and reasonable cause for a priest to celebrate the Eucharist with no member of the faithful present (CIC, c. 906). The bishop may forbid the priest to celebrate the Eucharist publicly and to administer the sacraments, for the good of the Church and for his own good.
e. Depending on the gravity of the case, the diocesan bishop/eparch may also dispense (CIC, cc. 85-88; CCEO, cc. 1536 §1–1538) the cleric from the obligation of wearing clerical attire (CIC, c. 284; CCEO, c. 387) and may urge that he not do so, for the good of the Church and for his own good. These administrative actions shall be taken in writing and by means of decrees (CIC, cc. 47-58; CCEO, cc. 1510 §2, 1°-2°, 1511, 1513 §§2-3 and 5, 1514, 1517 §1, 1518, 1519 §2, 1520) so that the cleric affected is afforded the opportunity of recourse against them in accord with canon law (CIC, cc. 1734ff.; CCEO, cc. 999ff.).
- The necessary observance of the canonical norms internal to the Church is not intended in any way to hinder the course of any civil action that may be operative. At the same time, the Church reaffirms her right to enact legislation binding on all her members concerning the ecclesiastical dimensions of the delict of sexual abuse of minors.
A Statement of Episcopal Commitment
We bishops pledge again to respond to the demands of the Charter in a way that manifests our accountability to God, to God’s people, and to one another. Individually and together, we acknowledge mistakes in the past when some bishops transferred, from one assignment to another, priests who abused minors. We recognize our roles in the suffering this has caused, and we continue to ask forgiveness for it.
Without at all diminishing the importance of broader accountability, this statement focuses on the accountability which flows from our episcopal communion and fraternal solidarity, a moral responsibility we have with and for each other.
While bishops are ordained primarily for their diocese or eparchy, we are called as well to protect the unity and to promote the common discipline of the whole Church (CIC, c. 392; CCEO, c. 201). Participating in the college of bishops, each bishop is responsible to act in a manner that reflects both effective and affective collegiality.
Respecting the legitimate rights of bishops who are directly accountable to the Holy See, in a spirit of collegiality and fraternity we renew our commitment to the following:
- Within each province, we will assist each other to interpret correctly and implement the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, always respecting Church law and striving to reflect the Gospel.
- We will apply the requirements of the Charter also to ourselves, respecting always Church law as it applies to bishops. Therefore, if a bishop is accused of the sexual abuse of a minor, the accused bishop is obliged to inform the Apostolic Nuncio. If another bishop becomes aware of such an allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor by a bishop, he too is obliged to inform the Apostolic Nuncio and comply with applicable civil laws.
- In cases of financial demands for settlements involving allegations of any sexual misconduct by a bishop, he, or any of us who become aware of it, is obliged to inform the Apostolic Nuncio.
- Within each of our provinces, as an expression of collegiality, including fraternal support, fraternal challenge and fraternal correction, we will engage in ongoing mutual reflection upon our commitment to holiness of life and upon the exercise of our episcopal ministry.
In making this statement, we firmly uphold the dignity of every human being and renew our commitment to live and promote the chastity required of all followers of Christ and especially of deacons, priests and bishops.
This Statement of Episcopal Commitment will be reviewed by the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations upon the next review of the Charter.