A few simple words, but they speak volumes and speak them loudly.
Earlier this fall, representatives of The Gavin Group, the outside auditors that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has retained to review the processes and procedures that each archdiocese and diocese has undertaken to implement the Dallas Charter, spent a week in Newark.
The two auditors, both former agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (as are most Gavin staff), reviewed all of the activity and information compiled by our staff concerning allegations that had been received in the past 20 months.
They looked at our records and procedures for training staff and volunteers on the subject of sexual abuse awareness. They pored over the information and progress we have made in instituting programs to benefit children and youth in our Catholic schools and promoting similar programs to benefit children in public schools who take part in our parish Religious Education programs.
They spoke with law enforcement officials, to ensure that the archdiocese does indeed report allegations that come to our attention and cooperate with the authorities when they begin an investigation. They received input from our volunteer Archdiocesan Review Board, which meets with those who bring allegations to us, as well as with those who have been accused, and then recommends if the archdiocese should take action under Church law against someone representing the archdiocese.
The auditors also met with pastors and school principals to verify that all of the appropriate safe environment procedures-including training, background screening and reporting-are in place and working. They spoke with our victims-assistance coordinator and with a representative of victims, to ensure that, indeed, the archdiocese is addressing the needs of victims pastorally.
They looked to see that we do keep local parish communities affected by an abuse allegation informed about progress. And they spent each day of the week questioning the members of our staff in the Newark Chancery involved in overseeing and managing our efforts, asking about the nuances of the statements made in the documents that we were required to prepare prior to the audit-rechecking their accuracy, looking for a little more data, an explanation, an understanding of how or why we set up a procedure in a certain way, to ensure that we are taking every step necessary to create and foster a safe environment for the children and young people we serve in our schools and parishes.
When I received the Gavin letter last month, I thought back to the preparations that the Office of Child and Youth Protection, other members of the staff in the Chancery, and parish and school staff had undertaken over the past year to bring us to this point; in fact, have undertaken since we first implemented the Charter in 2002 and began participating in audits in 2003.
And then, the words of the old Peggy Lee song, "Is That All There Is?" came to mind.
Nowhere in the letter does it refer to the fact that more than 30,000 adults are now trained through the "Protecting God's Children" program to be aware of potential warning signs of abuse. Nor to the almost 50,000 children and teens in our schools who have been trained in each of the past three years in the "Teaching Touching Safety Program," and the more than 50,000 Catholic children for whom we are championing programs like the state-funded Child Assault Prevention (CAP) and similar programs in the public schools they attend.
The letter also did not refer to the more than 27,000 staff and volunteers who have undergone the required criminal background screenings prior to undertaking their service within the Church. Nor did it take note of the fact that, even in the Chancery this past October, all staff went through the same rigorous training and screening programs that parishes go through, because students from Christ the King Prep-our new Cristo Rey high school in Newark-are working with us as part of their educational program.
But as I thought more, I had to agree that, yes, that short letter from the Gavin Group was all there is to this year's audit. And I am very proud of, and thankful to, each of you in our parishes and schools for making this year's audit, and each of our prior audits, so "matter of fact."
We are in a new time in the Church and what we have instituted in terms of safe-environment efforts in our schools and parishes should be nothing monumental, nothing unachievable. It is merely part of our everyday life of service and our Gospel mission.
Believe me, I don't like audits, just as I don't like annual physicals. However, they are both necessary steps to take stock of our health and commitment to our well-being and our future. Rereading the Gavin Group letter once more, I say that the safe environment of the Archdiocese of Newark is very healthy. By staying on this regimen, we can be assured of as healthy a report next year as well.
Thank you all for your vigilance.