SAFETY, JUSTICE & HEALING

At convocation, local deacons learn about diocesan practices to keep young people safe

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PROVIDENCE — The Diocese of Providence has been committed to providing safety, justice and healing to the faithful for over a quarter century. Kevin O’Brien, director of the Office of Compliance, and Dr. Michael Hansen, director of the Office of Outreach and Prevention, are leading that effort throughout the Diocese but also spreading this important message to the larger community.

The 102 deacons that serve the diocese gathered for their annual convocation last week in Warwick. O’Brien and Dr. Hansen were guest speakers at this event that celebrates the candidacy of new deacons embarking on a four-year process that leads to their ordination to the permanent diaconate. O’Brien and Hansen discussed their critical role and purview of their offices in protecting young people throughout the Diocese of Providence.

O’Brien, a 23-year veteran of the R.I. State Police, has led the Office of Compliance for the diocese since 2014. This arm of the diocese was established in 1993, nearly 10 years before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a formalized Charter for the Protection of Children in 2002. Its role is to protect young people from abuse.

“The Office of Compliance has been on the front lines of providing safety to young people in our communities for many years now,” said O’Brien. “It is important to spread the firm message of safety, justice and healing to the larger Catholic community in Rhode Island. This is what we did that at the deacon’s convocation.”

The Office of Compliance is tasked with working closely with parishes and schools to enhance their safety and security procedures. It conducts thousands of background checks annually on diocesan clergy, staff and volunteers and educating the whole community on their role as mandatory reporters. A mandatory reporter is legally required to report abuse if they observe or suspect it happening to a child.

Dr. Hansen, a practicing psychologist in Rhode Island for the past 26 years, is the director of the diocesan Office of Outreach and Prevention, which works closely with the Office of Compliance. In practice, a complaint is filed with the Office of Compliance and an immediate investigation is opened. The person is then referred to Dr. Hansen who provides referrals to counseling as needed. Dr. Hansen also coordinates a comprehensive Safe Environment Training for all members of the clergy as well as all diocesan employees and volunteers who have contact with children and young people. Training includes extensive information on awareness of abuse, a clear code of conduct and a strict reporting process.

“The opportunity to present at the convocation was helpful to communicate our diocese’s strong outreach efforts, since the establishment of the Office of Outreach and Prevention in 2003, to those who have been harmed by members of the clergy,” Dr. Hansen said.

Both O’Brien and Dr. Hansen work alongside the Diocese Advisory Board for the Protection of Children and Young People. This board is comprised of a retired lieutenant colonel and major of the R.I. State Police, a Rhode Island District Court judge and clergy from other faith organizations in Providence. They add another layer of safety by reviewing diocesan policies and procedures and recommend ways they can be strengthened.

In addition, the diocese voluntarily reports allegations to the R.I. State Police and the R.I. attorney general, both steps exceeding the reporting requirements established in current state law.

“It is important that the current and future deacons of our diocese understand the gravity of what we do at the Office of Compliance and Office of Outreach and Prevention,” O’Brien added. “Our teams work incredibly hard to create a safe environment for young people to learn and grow at the church.”

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