Criminal checks for archdiocese staff planned

Tighter church policy aimed at child abuse

Many volunteers also affected

Loopholes closed after U.S. bishops meeting

August 29, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore will unveil a revised sexual abuse policy today at a mandatory meeting for parish and school leaders that will require criminal background checks for every church employee, as well as for many volunteers.

The new policy follows by two months U.S. bishops' approval of a get-tough approach to the sexual abuse of minors at their June meeting in Dallas. It also follows the removal last month of a Federal Hill pastor who had knowingly hired a church organist convicted of child sexual abuse.

Previously, only church personnel who had unsupervised access to children were required to submit to criminal background checks, including the 3,000 lay teachers who teach in the Catholic schools.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Sun incorrectly stated that all volunteers who work with children in churches and schools run by the Archdiocese of Baltimore would be subject to criminal background checks. Only some volunteers who function as parish staff will be required to undergo criminal-record checks. All others will be checked to see if their names are on sex-offender registries and will be required to submit the names of at least three references, which must be checked. The Sun regrets the error.

Now, the inquiries will be required of all church employees, and also of the thousands of volunteers who work alone with children, such as youth ministers and religious education teachers.

The cost of the background checks, about $40 each, will be paid by the individual parish or school or, in the case of employees who work out of the chancery, by the archdiocese.

Church officials did not have an estimate of the total cost, but it will be considerable because of the large number of volunteers who will have to be checked.

Because many church personnel have submitted to background checks, and because the cost will be disbursed among the individual parishes and schools, it is not expected to be onerous.

The new policy also states that churches, schools and the chancery "will not knowingly hire any person with a history of even a single incident of child sexual abuse."

That closes a loophole that allowed the Rev. Thomas Malia, pastor of two Federal Hill parishes, to hire an acquaintance who had been convicted of having sex with a minor, which resulted in the pastor's removal over the protests of some parishioners.

"The policies have been tightened up and offer more specifics," said Monsignor Richard Woy, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection.

Today's Convocation on Child Abuse is expected to attract more than 1,000 priests, principals, youth ministers and other church workers to Martin's West in Woodlawn. They will hear addresses from sexual abuse victims, social workers and several church officials, including Cardinal William H. Keeler.

These church leaders are then expected to take the message back to the schools and parishes in the archdiocese.

Perhaps the most significant innovation in the revised policy is its attention to thousands of church volunteers, lay people who form the backbone of many schools and parish programs.

"One of the real challenges with this is most of our work force is volunteers," Woy said.

Under the revised policy, all volunteers who work with youth will be required to complete an application, including references that supervisors will be expected to contact. Volunteers will also be required to sign a statement that they have read and understand the archdiocese policy on child sexual abuse.

"If volunteers refuse or will not accept going through this process, they will not be permitted to participate as volunteers," said Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of Baltimore's Catholic schools.

Church employees and volunteers will also be required to attend a yearly session on ethics in ministry, which will include a discussion of proper conduct between the minister or volunteer and the children they serve.

"We want to provide an environment where healthy ministry takes place, and healthy ministry only takes place when boundaries between minister and those the minister cares for are respected," Woy said.

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