(Statement of James Goodness, Vice Chancellor and Director of Communications, on Today’s nj.com Story Questioning the Archdiocese’s Compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People)
The Archdiocese of Newark welcomes questions about the high priority that we place on the protection of children and young people.
However, we believe that the story released today by NJ Advance Media and its reporter, Erin Banco, contains serious errors of fact and process. I want to set the record straight.
The USCCB auditors for the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People have always found the Archdiocese of Newark in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, from the time the Conference instituted audits in 2003, up to and including the two most recent audit years of 2016 and 2017. We would be happy to furnish letters to that fact.
The Archdiocese is on track for compliance in 2018, and is committed to compliance with all provisions of the Charter.
Ms. Banco obtained an early December memo to parishes and schools, and concluded that the Archdiocese is not in compliance this year because a group of parishes and schools had not filed reports by Dec. 1, 2017.
December 1 is not a mandated date from USCCB auditors for compliance. It is an arbitrary date that the Archdiocese established as a “first call” to parishes and schools to submit data electronically to the Archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection.
The audit year for the USCCB Safe Environment/Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People runs from July 1 – June 30. Following the close of any audit year, the Archdiocese has until the beginning of September to submit data to the auditors for evaluation.
The Dec. 1, 2017 date cited in Ms. Banco’s story is 7 months before the close of the current audit year, which will conclude on June 30, 2018, and 9 months before information actually is due for evaluation by the auditors.
This early first call date allows Archdiocesan Youth and Child Protection staff to be in contact with those who, for whatever reason, have not yet filed their reports of staff and volunteer safe environment training and background checks. The early notice helps the staff to address any technical problem or scheduling issue that might be in place.
In fact, the early first call is an aggressive, pro-active approach that we have taken to ensure that all parish and school locations are compliant, and in way that is consistent with the Archdiocese’s commitment to a safe environment for all children, youth, and vulnerable people whom the Church serves.
Occasionally, some parishes or schools fail to report their activity for the audit according to the timeline that we have established internally, well in advance of the prescribed due dates. Reasons for failure to participate typically include changes in staff responsible for reporting, which may prompt delays, or incorrect filing of information electronically. In some cases where parish staffs and volunteers have not changed over the years, parish staff may feel that filing a new report that repeats the prior year’s information is not necessary. Office of Youth and Child Protection staff educate those individuals about the importance of continual annual reporting.
In her story, Ms. Banco tried to link the inaction of some parishes to obtain accounts for background checks several years ago, when the Archdiocese switched to a new provider, to lack of commitment. In these cases, it is probable that these parishes, relatively small and with little or no turnover, had obtained appropriate background checks for their staff and volunteers in 2013 and 2014, and would only need to begin using a new vendor starting this year – 2018. We are ensuring that those new accounts will be in place, and updated background checks completed, in time for the end of the audit year.
It is important to note that, as of February 1, all 93 schools within the Archdiocese have reported their statistics regarding staff/volunteer safe environment training and background checks, and student participation in safe environment training.
As of February 1, only 20 of the 215 parishes within the Archdiocese still have to complete the reports of staff/volunteer safe environment training and background checks. Office of Youth and Child Protection staff are working with those parishes now to ensure that they submit all information in the coming weeks – well before the June 30, 2018 end of the audit period.
Currently, more than 23,500 adults within the Archdiocese – including Clergy and Religious, parish staff and volunteers, and school faculty, staff and volunteers – have undergone mandated training in sexual abuse awareness and safe environment, and underdone criminal background checks, per Charter requirements.
Ms. Banco quotes in her story an “anonymous archdiocese employee who was not authorized to speak on the matter.” This source expresses fear about not knowing “if many of our teachers working with children have pasts we should be concerned about.” The fact of the matter is simple: faculty in schools within the Archdiocese must comply with all licensing requirements of the State of New Jersey Department of Education – including fingerprint-based background checks. Had Ms. Banco’s source possessed any real understanding of the issue, he would not have made such a gross misrepresentation of the truth.
All individuals in the Archdiocese who work with children, youth and vulnerable individuals are required to repeat mandated sexual abuse awareness and safe environment training every 3 years, and to undergo an updated criminal background check every 5 years.
While the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People requires only 1 instance of training and background check to obtain compliance, the Archdiocese has for a number of years required more frequent training and checks -- a “best practice” approach to ensuring safety of children and youth that is being implemented by many dioceses in the United States.
The Archdiocese provides the 30,000 children in Archdiocesan schools with annual, age-appropriate safe environment training to provide them with tools to recognize potential boundary violations.
The Archdiocese is unaware of any youth-serving organization or educational institution – public or private – that is as committed as we are to ensuring a safe environment for the individuals we serve, or that is as comprehensive in our approach to securing that environment.
We take the protection of children seriously. We are confident we are doing our job. And we always welcome questions that help everyone understand the deep level of our commitment.