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Mike Connelly, 68, retiring director of Office of Safe Environments, says Diocese of Wilmington ‘safest place’ for kids

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Mike Connelly

Police work is serious business, but it can often give law enforcement people the chance to make a difference.

Mike Connelly knew it was serious business when he was asked in 2017 to run the Office for Safe Environments in the Diocese of Wilmington. He took the job because he was a lifelong Catholic and lawman and knew the church could use his skills.

It was in the latter part of the last century and early part of this one that the clergy sex abuse scandal was unearthed in the church in the United States. Connelly followed the news the same as many Catholics and initially worked as a volunteer member of the diocesan review board. He was later offered and accepted the top job in charge of keeping people, especially children, safe in the church.

Now retired, Connelly worked his last day for the diocese in December and believes much has been achieved in the time he spent in the job.

“I think the diocese is in a good place,” he said in an interview with The Dialog.

“One of the constant questions I get is how well do I know the priests in this diocese,” he said. “And I immediately say, I knew many of them before I came in, I know just about all of them now. And there is no issue with our diocese right now. We really have good men working in the priesthood, doing great work, and all our other volunteers and employees, everybody is screened and trained.”

A parishioner at St. Mary Magdalen in Wilmington, Connelly, 68, was 20 years with Delaware State Police before he joined the Diocese of Wilmington. He can point to numerous strides the diocese has made in eradicating potential problems.

“We’ve changed some of the training, specifically for our religious ed instructors for safe environments because they have to take time during the class time to teach the kids how to be safe and when an adult is trying to take advantage of them.” Connelly said.

He said parishes are better equipped to help prevent problems.

“One of the things is that each of the parishes have their own compliance coordinator and I made sure that each of the coordinators were trained,” Connelly said. “I don’t know how we could’ve done the program without having somebody on the ground in each of the 70 or so locations we have in the diocese.”

Connelly’s wife, Mary Ann, retires in February and he said they are looking forward to doing some traveling while spending time with their four daughters and grandchildren.

“I’m certainly looking forward to that,” he said.

His daughters were skeptical, somewhat exaggerating – “Dad, you’ve retired seven times now” – but while he promises not to resurface in the workforce, he said he has agreed to volunteer as a member of the diocese review board.

Connelly says his replacement, school safety veteran Brian Moore, is a good choice to take over. Connelly knows Moore from their days serving together on the Police Athletic League board.

Connelly has confidence in the work that will continue in the diocese.

“I always tell anybody who wants to listen,” he said. “The safest place you can be as a child in 2024, and onward, is the Catholic church. Because we realized the huge problem that was created, and we took positive steps to make sure it never happened again.”