Archbishop Etienne responds to questions about how Anchorage Archdiocese protects against sex abuse

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Editor’s note: The following text was published on Oct. 16 in response to written questions submitted via the Anchorage Archdiocese website on how the archdiocese works to protect vulnerable adults and children against sexual abuse.

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions, comments and suggestions to the archdiocese on the website submission link. The following are some of the questions submitted and include general answers related to the safe environment policy and procedures of the archdiocese.

This is not a list of all questions submitted and additional listings will be made in the upcoming weeks. It is my hope that these responses will assist in understanding procedures that are currently in place to not only respond to allegations of abuse but also to prevent and protect our most vulnerable.

If there are any additional questions or comments, all are encouraged to submit them on the Archdiocese of Anchorage website (archdioceseofanchorage.org). Review and evaluation of existing policies and procedures are on going in consultation with the Archdiocesan Review Board. Recommendations from the people of the archdiocese are appreciated and assist in our efforts to continually improve our response to allegations and our procedures to prevent any harm or potential harm to our most vulnerable.

In The Heart of Christ
— Archbishop Paul D. Etienne

‘What else can I do?’

Everyone is encouraged to read and learn about the policies of the archdiocese and are invited to take the safe environment online training which is accessed through the Archdiocese of Anchorage website (archdioceseofanchorage.org) and follow safe environment link

If you are a volunteer in your parish or school, and know that safe environment requirements apply to your ministry (completing a background check and online training) take the initiative and complete those before being asked and before signing up for your ministry. (The background check is done through your local parish or school by contacting your parish/school office).

If you are a member of a parish or school, inquire about the compliance of your parish or school. Be aware of the surroundings and environment of not only your parish or school but the wider community and say something if you see something that causes you concern or makes you uncomfortable.

‘Where else can I be of help?’

If you have suggestions about how the archdiocese can improve on its policies, procedures or how it communicates ensuring a safe environment, contact the archdiocesan Office of Safe Environment or your local pastor, principal or parish staff. If you have skills and experience in education, health care or child protection or safety, ask your parish or school how you can help with the safe environment ministry.

‘Addressing allegations is good and necessary – but what about keeping children safe?’

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which is the document created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and most recently revised in June of 2018 focuses on two areas, responding to victims and preventing abuse. The Archdiocese of Anchorage focuses on prevention of abuse in order to keep children safe through multiple steps that focus on ministers, volunteers, children and parents. All ministers (clerics, faculty and employees) and volunteers who have “contact with minors or vulnerable adults” (as defined in our Pastoral Polices located on our website) are required to have a criminal background check before beginning their ministry. These ministers and volunteers are also required to take safe environment training which focuses on identifying abuse and recognizing its dynamics and knowing when to report to law enforcement.

All children registered and in attendance of our parish faith formation programs and schools are taught a program called “Circle of Grace.” Circle of Grace teaches our children the dignity of every person; God’s presence within them; God’s desire for their safety; to identify when they are feeling uncomfortable or being harmed and to talk to a trusted adult.

Parents/families are provided information regarding this important information and guidance on how to help children understand this message and respond when they ask for help.

The training for adults is available online through the archdiocesan website and all parishioners are invited to take the training. Its purpose is to bring about awareness to the issue of abuse towards minors and vulnerable adults and the church’s teaching and policy on how we are called to respond. This training is beneficial for not only when involved within the institution of the Catholic Church, but in all areas of our community.

‘Are the results of these reviews (audit) made public anywhere?’

In recent past years, articles were written in the Catholic Anchor announcing the results of the annual audit. These results have given general statistics and whether the archdiocese had been found compliant with all articles of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. For the 2017-18 audit year, the archdiocese has once again been found compliant as it has every previous year since 2010. For the upcoming audit year, specific details will be reported for all parishes and schools regarding compliance, such as, the number of employees and volunteers reported for each parish/school and if anyone had not completed or renewed their background check or safe environment training. Also reported will be the number of students registered in their parish/school and how many received training. From the chancery records it will be reported how many clerics, candidates for ordination and employees have met compliance.

For this past year, 2017-2018, an onsite audit was conducted by a contracted forensic accounting firm from New York State (this is done every three years for every diocese within the United States) to determine if the Archdiocese of Anchorage would be determined compliant with the Charter. The archdiocese was found once again to be compliant. A few results from this audit were that all clerics and candidates for ordination had background checks and safe environment training completed. The audit also showed that 75% of all children enrolled in faith formation programs and schools received the Circle of Grace Training. One recommendation by the auditors was to improve that number because it has remained at that level for the past few years.

‘What is the exact and complete line of reporting of an incident of an abusive, sexual nature after it is reported to the archbishop in whose archdiocese the incident occurred?’

It is the written policy and obligation of all ministers of the Archdiocese of Anchorage that any known allegations of abuse towards a minor or vulnerable adult must first be reported directly to law enforcement by the person that learned of the allegation, whether cleric, minister, employee or volunteer. The next person to be told of the allegation is the person’s immediate supervisor.

If an allegation is reported to the archdiocese then as dictated by policy, archdiocesan staff will immediately report to law enforcement. For an allegation against anyone representing the archdiocese, after law enforcement, a report must be made to the Office of Safe Environment.

All ministers are to cooperate and not impede a law enforcement investigation. If there is an allegation of abuse against someone representing the archdiocese, the Archdiocesan Review Board, which is an advisory board of Archbishop Etienne, will be notified and consulted on ensuring policy and procedures of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Policies are followed and will make recommendations on additional steps and responses necessary.

‘How about financial crime?’

It is important for the people of the archdiocese to know that we have a professional diocesan finance officer who handles all financial records for the archdiocese. Likewise, there is an Archdiocesan Finance Council, made up of lay men and women with professional financial backgrounds, who regularly review all financial statements, budgets and investments. This council also reviews the annual financial audit, which is independently conducted. Another body which must be consulted by the archbishop in larger financial issues, such as purchasing and selling property, is the College of Consultors, which is a body of priests from the archdiocese.

‘I would like to ask Archbishop Etienne to please comment on the homosexual problem within the priesthood that has come to light recently.’

In 2003, Pope John Paul II required an apostolic visitation of all U.S. seminaries. The U.S. seminary programs follow a basic, detailed program of formation called the Program of Priestly Formation, or PPF. The report of this extensive visitation was issued in 2008. The four ‘pillars’ of this formation program are: academic, pastoral, spiritual and human.

Much attention during the apostolic visitation was focused on the preparation of men to be healthy and realistic regarding the promise of celibacy. Since the apostolic visitation, the health of our U.S. seminaries has improved, especially with a clear understanding that there is no room in seminary life for a subculture of homosexual groups or activity.

Seminaries today have well trained and qualified spiritual directors, as well as professional counselors prepared to assist candidates for priesthood to better understand their sexuality and to achieve the necessary maturity in this area of life to be able to freely make and keep this promise.

I have made it very clear to our seminarians preparing for priesthood, and have clearly communicated recently to the priests of the archdiocese that if an individual fails to keep his priestly promise of celibacy, that individual and the behavior will be clearly addressed.

‘I would like to know the definition of ‘vulnerable persons.’

The Archdiocesan Pastoral Policies refer to vulnerable persons as both minors, anyone under the age of 18, and a vulnerable adult.

The definition for vulnerable adult is the following legal definition located on page seven of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Policies: “‘Vulnerable Adult’ is defined by Alaska State law (AS 47.24.900,16), that any person 18 years of age or older is considered ‘vulnerable’ when that person experiences a physical or mental disability or physical or mental impairment and is ‘unable to meet their own needs or to seek help without assistance. Additionally, the elderly is specifically included in the ‘vulnerable’ category.”

‘How are we the laypeople supposed to trust in the church when it’s clear they cover these things up and they are not taking action about this abuse?’

One of the first ways to ensure that action is taken when there is an allegation of sexual misconduct is for those who are aware of an allegation of abuse toward a minor or vulnerable adult or child pornography, immediately report the allegation to law enforcement first. Therefore an investigation will be done by an outside, investigative law enforcement, child protection or adult protection agency and will be conducted in an objective manner.

The archdiocese is to follow the direction of these outside agencies and cooperate with any investigations. Collaboration with law enforcement and community advocacy agencies in promoting prevention and addressing issues related to abuse of our most vulnerable builds a broader awareness for the church and guidance in the church’s role in supporting those who have been harmed.

‘What is being done to encourage victims to report abuse? I see notices in parish buildings but I suspect many victims are no longer attending mass. Are there TV ads? I have never seen anything on social media.’

Notices and requests to have victims and survivors report any abuse experienced by someone representing the Catholic Church are posted, as was mentioned in this question, in parish buildings and also on the archdiocesan website, in the Catholic Anchor, on the website for most Catholic dioceses across the country and on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

Most recently when Archbishop Etienne spoke about the abuse crisis in light of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and the allegations brought forward about Cardinal McCarrick, on local news, he asked for anyone who has been harmed by anyone representing the Catholic Church to report to law enforcement.

But this question has also brought to light, where and how else would someone see or know that the church asks victims to come forward and report to law enforcement if they had no direct contact with the church. If anyone has suggestions on how else this could be done, you are encouraged to contact the Office of Safe Environment or submit your suggestions.


'Archbishop Etienne responds to questions about how Anchorage Archdiocese protects against sex abuse'
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