The Diocese of Wilmington announced this week that “For the Sake of God’s Children,” its program to keep children in its care safe from abuse, has been found effective by an outside consultant.
The report, received in April, marks the 10th time in nine years the diocese’s child protection program has been evaluated. For nine years, 2003 through 2011, the diocese’s child protection plan has been audited by an agency named by the U.S. bishops for compliance with the bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” implemented in 2002. An agency named by the bishops will audit the diocese again this year, as it does every year.
However, the latest review, completed last month, was stipulated in the 2011 settlement agreement the diocese reached with survivors of sexual abuse by priests.
Dr. Sandy K. Wurtele, a child protection consultant, wrote in the summary of her report, “I applaud the safe-environment training program developed by the Diocese of Wilmington. Educating and informing all adults in the environment is the best way to ‘extend guardianship’ and the diocese’s “For the Sake of God’s Children” does an outstanding job of educating all personnel and volunteers about child maltreatment and sexual exploitation.”
Wurtele’s 55-page report, “Best Practices in Safeguarding Children: Report on Diocese of Wilmington’s ‘For the Sake of God’s Children,’” also praises the diocesan school curriculum, “Keeping Our Promises.”
“The school curriculum is unique not only in being grounded in religious teachings, but by embedding the concepts into different curricular areas at all grade levels, providing students with a seamless message about respecting themselves and others,” Wurtele wrote.
Bishop Malooly said in a statement May 8 that Wurtele’s report is comprehensive, thorough and “advises that the diocese is doing well in some areas and that there can be improvement in other areas in its efforts to protect children and to educate them and their parents about childhood sexual abuse.”
Expressing gratitude for “Dr. Wurtele’s service to the diocese and our community,” the bishop also noted that “she has written extensively on every aspect of this horrible reality and is well-suited to advise us on how to enhance and improve our policies.”
In a May 7 interview, Wurtele, director of the undergraduate program of psychology and chair of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects, said, “It’s rare to find an organization that has attacked the problem [of child abuse] on so many different levels.”
Wurtele, who was hired for the review of diocesan child protection programs with the approval of the Unsecured Creditors Committee in the diocesan bankruptcy, is not a Catholic, she said, and has had no previous connections with the diocese.
Her review examined policies and procedures in three areas:
• Education of youth and parents provided in “Keeping Our Promises.”
• Training provided to seminarians, and
• Policies and procedures specific to mandatory reporting of all child maltreatment with emphasis on sexual abuse; and training to identify and report such maltreatment.
Wurtele rated the diocese at A- on the three sections. Her grade for parent materials in the “Education of youth” section was a B. She also recommended 21 areas for improvement.
“With any organization that’s hierarchical like the Catholic Church, with a history of not being fully transparent about allegations and accusations, I really felt this is the time I’m going to push for fuller involvement of parents. I’m really sure none of us are going to solve this problem by just telling kids to say no,” Wurtele said.
“What struck me in going through the program is that [the diocese] has got a good start on material they’re sharing with the parents. I’d like to see more layers of that.”
In her comments about seminarian training in safe environments for children and on priests’ ethics, Wurtele suggests it should focus less on the image of a “predator.”
“It’s really important to not give seminarians any opportunity to distance themselves from that material, she said. “The focus on the seminarians has got to be recognizing the proclivities in all of us. When I train adults, I try to get them to recognize all of us need to recognize our power over vulnerable people.”
Wurtele said her recommendation for seminarians’ training has been well received and “I’ve been asked to help modify those workshops on maintaining professional boundaries.”
Other areas for improvement in Wurtele’s report include expanding program content for children and adults; increasing involvement of children and parents/caregivers in developing curriculum; conducting assessments to determine the effectiveness in teaching safety knowledge and skills; the creation of flow charts to describe steps to follow in reporting suspicions of child abuse; and adding scenarios to help students recognize warning signs.
Wurtele said the “Keeping Our Promises” program, goes “overboard” on clergy abuse.
“The majority of their examples [of abusers] were priests,” she said.
“What I’ve encouraged them to do is broaden that. We know it’s anyone in a position of power [who might abuse children]. With teenagers, it’s most likely to be someone in a youth-serving organization.”
Wurtele said the “quick and dirty solution” to the problem of child sex abuse in many organizations is to do background checks but “that’s not going to solve the problem.”
It has to be done, she said, but noted the diocese is “going beyond that by providing training to all staff and volunteers on child abuse and neglect, by providing materials to parents and by infusing that information in K through 12 grades.
“I compliment the diocese for their efforts and rate them highly,” Wurtele said. “They have a very good foundation and there are ways of making it a model and standard for all dioceses.”
‘We did OK’
In a response to Wurtele’s report on the Diocese of Wilmington’s website, www.cdow.org, the diocese says it will integrate Wurtele’s suggestions for improvement into its safe-environment programs in the coming year.
Sister Suzanne Donovan, who has been running the “For the Sake of God’s Children” program in the diocese since 2003, said May 8 that, “I could not be more grateful to all the people in this diocese who have made this work.”
She praised the “Catholic Schools Office, Religious Education Office, youth ministers, every pastor and priest, teachers, parish volunteers and all the parents” for cooperating in the safe-environment process. “It’s as good as it is because of them.”
She said Msgr. J. Thomas Cini, moderator of the curia, had said from the beginning of the diocese’s safe-environment program, “‘we are going to do what is right and do it in a reasonable manner.’ That’s what worked. We try to remember we have to be accountable with every decision we make with it.”
Sister Donovan, who is director of the Human Resources Office, said running the safe-environment program in the diocese could include overseeing three to 120 background checks on any given day.
In the 21 areas for improvement suggested by the Wurtele Report, she said, “That’s one of the things we’re already working on. This was the year to revise our curriculum.”
Sister Donovan said Wurtele has “been very generous sharing resource sites and guided us in very topical directions to continue to enhance the program.
“We asked for an assessment to give credibility to the [“For the Sake of God’s Children”] program and [“Keeping Our Promises”] curriculum. I guess we did OK.”
On the web
The diocesan website, www.cdow.org, has the full report by Dr. Sandy K. Wurtele, the executive summary of the report and the official diocesan response. The three reports can be found at the bottom of the web page on Non-Monetary Undertakings and Stipulations, www.cdow.org/settlement.html
The executive summary is at: www.cdow.org/WurteleCDOWExecSummary-final.pdf
The full report is at: www.cdow.org/WurteleCDOWReport-Final.pdf
Find the diocesan response to the Wurtele Report at: www.cdow.org/Diocese_of_Wilmington_Response_to_the_Wurtele_Report2.pdf