Church’s commitment to protecting children and the young is non-negotiable


Amid turmoil and trials, pain and suffering, war and violence, poverty and disease, our world needs a reminder of the hope of the Resurrection, which we just celebrated with exultant joy this Easter. This is especially true during April, which is child abuse prevention month. There’s no avoiding the painful reality that reports about child sex abuse within schools, families, and churches are reminders of past failures to protect young people. They are occasions of great pain and suffering that call for justice and healing.
As a priest and a Catholic, I wish I could turn back the clock on the tragic, shameful things that happened here in Rhode Island in the past. But that’s just not possible.
However, I do take some (small) solace in the knowledge, that since 1993, our Providence Diocese has established a commitment to safety, justice, and healing that earnestly seeks to atone for the past in a forthright way and to protect our young people in the future.
Today, our Office of Compliance is led by Major Kevin O’Brien, a retired 23-year veteran of the Rhode Island State Police. For more than 30 years, under Mr. O’Brien and his predecessor, this office has promptly reported every allegation of abuse to law enforcement, including the State Police, to pursue justice.
The diocese also reports every single allegation of abuse to the Rhode Island attorney general. This level of disclosure and transparency is not required by law. Still, it reflects our commitment to seeking justice for victims and punishment for abusers.
The diocese also established an Office of Outreach and Prevention, which works to protect young people and to provide healing for victims. Led by Dr. Michael Hansen, a practicing psychologist in Rhode Island for 26 years, this office responds immediately to newly reported cases with compassion and caring, ensuring that victims receive support and referrals for needed counseling. Together, these two offices oversee safe environment training for all clergy, employees, and volunteers at our Catholic schools, parishes, and other diocesan organizations, and conduct more than 4,000 background checks annually.
The Diocese of Providence also mandates the Circle of Grace program, which is a curriculum that educates and empowers children and young people to actively participate in a safe environment for themselves and others.
The Church’s commitment to protecting children and the young is non-negotiable. As Pope Francis recently shared with the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors, “In our ecclesial ministry of protecting minors, closeness to victims of abuse is no abstract concept, but a very concrete reality, comprised of listening, intervening, preventing and assisting.” It is my hope that all those affected by the crime of sexual abuse will find in the Lord Jesus and the promise of Easter Sunday a reason for hope and healing, even amid grave evil. The Church accompanies victims as her sons and daughters. It will continue, without fail, to work toward protecting the most vulnerable among us.
The Rev. Bernard A. Healey is the director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference.