Ethics and Integrity in Ministry: Fulfilling our commitment to heal and protect
By Emily Hurlimann
April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. Thus it is a good time to highlight the commitment the parishes, Catholic schools and organizations in the Diocese of Austin have made to protecting all of God’s people from harm and abuse.
In 2002, the U.S. bishops gathered in Dallas for their annual June meeting. For months the national media had been reporting on hundreds of allegations of abuse of minors by Catholic priests across the country, as well as the poor management, by some bishops, of cases of abuse they had learned about over prior years. At the Dallas meeting, the bishops approved the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which mandated guidelines that dioceses must follow to help those who have been harmed in the past and ensure ongoing efforts to prevent future cases of abuse.
In 2001, under the leadership of Bishop Gregory Aymond and the professional expertise of Monica Applewhite, an international specialist on the prevention of child sexual abuse, the Diocese of Austin created policies, procedures and training programs that met the requirements of the Charter – our Ethics and Integrity in Ministry (EIM) program. By the end of that year, thousands of clergy, religious, seminarians, diocesan employees, parish and Catholic school employees, and volunteers in youth ministries had been educated about boundaries, warning signs and ways to respond and to report abuse. They also committed to follow the diocesan Code of Ethics.
In the spring of 2002, the diocese began training lay volunteers to teach the EIM workshops and a local Catholic company, Austin Computing Solutions, created a database to securely collect applicant data required to run background checks, and help parishes and schools monitor compliance by storing EIM workshop attendance history, all in one system.
Over the last 15 years, the EIM policies have been reviewed and updated by the diocesan EIM Review Board as required by the charter. Within a few years, the protection of vulnerable adults served by various parish and diocesan ministries was included in the EIM policies, and additional ministries have been added to the list of those that require EIM compliance. The EIM policies can be found at www.austindiocese.org/eim.
Healing and support
The diocese has a coordinator of Victim Assistance and Pastoral Support who meets with a person who reports an allegation of abuse. The coordinator listens to their story and provides a report to the bishops. This support is provided no matter if the story of abuse was from many years ago or more recent, or if it may have involved a cleric, employee or volunteer. More often the EIM Office hears from people sharing an issue of boundary violation or abuse from someone not involved in the church, and our role becomes more to assist the individual or family in determining how to proceed and supporting pastoral care as needed.
Response and accountability
The diocesan EIM policies require a prompt response to allegations, including reporting allegations to civil authorities. Texas law requires anyone with knowledge of suspected abuse or neglect of a child or vulnerable adult to report it to the appropriate authorities. This mandatory reporting requirement applies to all citizens, and of course we have a moral obligation as Catholics to protect those who are most vulnerable from harm. In the case of a credible allegation, the cleric or other individual is removed from ministry while the matter is investigated, and is permanently removed, if found to be responsible for committing an act of abuse.
Our policies also present clear guidelines for appropriate interactions with minors, as well as behaviors that are prohibited; the Code of Conduct each cleric, employee and volunteer promises to follow declares their commitment to serve in ministry in an ethical manner and with great integrity.
Bishops Joe Vásquez and Daniel Garcia have demonstrated compassionate response to victims of abuse and a steadfast commitment to compliance with all aspects of the charter and the diocesan EIM policies. Annually each diocese is audited by an outside firm to verify compliance with Charter requirements; the Diocese of Austin has been found in compliance with the charter every year.
Compliance and protection
The Diocese of Austin requires EIM compliance for all persons who serve in ministry with minors, or in any ministry, program or organization that serves youth in any manner or functions at a time and place where minors are typically present. EIM compliance means a person has submitted a one-time EIM Application for Ministry, passes the background check, and attends an EIM Workshop every three years. In 2016, the diocese created and implemented a new education program titled “Fulfilling our Commitment to Heal and Protect,” which all persons serving in any ministry requiring EIM compliance must attend the next time they are due for a workshop.
Additionally, parishes and Catholic Schools are required to provide education at age-appropriate levels to minors regarding boundaries and what to do if they have a concern about boundary violation. Our diocese currently uses Praesidium’s “Called to Protect” programs, a curriculum based program for younger children and a facilitator led program for youth in grades six through 12.
Each parish and Catholic school has an EIM site administrator who uses the online EIM database (eAppsDB) to assist their pastor or school principal in monitoring EIM compliance for all members and who serves as a liaison to the diocesan EIM office.
In the 2015-2016 audit year 15,847 background checks were run, of which 5,047 were for new applicants and 10,800 were rechecks due this period (background checks are automatically rerun every three years). Also, 25,976 adults attended an EIM workshop for either the first time or as a refresher (workshop attendance is required every three years). Additionally, 19,044 minors were educated using the “Called to Protect” programs.
Pope Francis has made it very clear that each one of us must do all we can to serve the most vulnerable in our society. Compliance with EIM policies by all persons who do ministry where minors and vulnerable adults may be present provides educated eyes and ears and voices to assist our church in doing all that we can to keep young people and vulnerable adults safe from preventable harm. Together we are fulfilling our commitment to heal and protect.
For more information regarding the diocesan EIM policies, contact Emily Hurlimann at (512) 949-2447 or email@example.com.