PROVIDENCE — The Diocese of Providence was recently determined to be in compliance with the standards set forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the protection of children and youths, according to an independent audit.
The USCCB contracted StoneBridge Business Partners, a privately owned auditing company, to perform audits of all American dioceses once every three years to ensure that they are in compliance with The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, popularly known as the Dallas Charter, a resolution adopted in 2002 by the USCCB to set forth nationally agreed upon standards outlining ways to prevent and report the abuse of minors.
In the audit report, StoneBridge asserted that the Diocese of Providence “has been found compliant with all the audited articles of The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
This is reflective of a larger trend within the local Church.
“I was pleased but not surprised that after a thorough audit…the Diocese of Providence was in compliance with all child safety and protection measures mandated by the USCCB,” said Kevin O’Brien, the director of the Office of Compliance for the Diocese of Providence.
As well as being expected to abide by the national standards set by the USCCB, each diocese is also encouraged to develop their own diocesan regulations. In this regard, the Diocese of Providence has been a trailblazer, establishing the Diocesan Advisory Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, the organization responsible for creating, revising and enforcing these regulations, almost a decade before similar national standards were established by the USCCB.
“The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, and since that time all dioceses in the country are mandated to provide pastoral outreach and support to those individuals who have been hurt by priests in the past,” explained Michael D. Hansen, Ph.D., the director of the Office of Outreach and Prevention.
“In our own diocese, those efforts began in 1993, roughly nine years prior to the establishment of the charter.”
Dr. Hansen went on to note that the impetus for the local diocesan regulations came under the episcopacy of Bishop Louis Gelineau in response to claims of clerical abuse received during this time. The diocese’s initiatives to create a specific, official, diocese-wide set of standards concerning clerical sex abuse were some of the first in the country.
“That strong commitment [to protecting the children of this diocese] has continued on the part of the late Bishop Robert E. Mulvee and currently with Bishop Thomas J. Tobin,” Dr. Hansen continued.
O’Brien spoke of the Diocese’s ardent commitment to protecting children and assisting those who claim to be the victims of abuse by gathering the facts and circumstances and working with law enforcement in the pursuit of justice.
“The leadership of the diocese gave the director [of Compliance] carte blanche to investigate fully, objectively and without any influence or interference whatsoever from anyone at the diocese,” O’Brien noted.
O’Brien, the former Detective Commander for the Rhode Island State Police, has worked with the Diocese of Providence for the past seven-and-a-half years. He stated that the experiences he gained conducting criminal investigations while serving with the State Police has carried over into his responsibilities of keeping the Diocese of Providence safe.
“Just as communication, education, vigilance and awareness were key components of public safety, so too are they part of our child protection protocol,” O’Brien stated, going on to note that “the procedures developed and utilized by the diocese were in keeping with the high standards expected by the families of the Diocese of Providence.”
The general procedure of addressing such accusations of abuse is rooted in a cooperation between secular and ecclesiastical authorities and a desire to help victims in the process of healing and reconciliation.
"I would encourage anyone who wishes to report sexual abuse to contact the RI State Police Major Crimes Unit, their local police department, the RIAG’s office and/or me. Every allegation is reported to law enforcement and the RIAG’s office for investigation. It will also be investigated internally by my office," O'Brien said.
After conducting an interview with the alleged victim, the Office of Compliance will then report the incident to law enforcement as well as to the Attorney General as per diocesan protocol. The Office of Compliance will also reach out to Dr. Hansen, who will arrange to have an interview with the alleged victims.
“In the context of that meeting, I would listen to what they wanted to share about their experience and provide attentive and compassionate listening and support, and then discern, along with the individual, in what ways could we as a Diocese be helpful to them with their healing process.”
As the investigation continues, the diocese will also reach out to the individual with an official letter of apology. Further, Dr. Hansen noted that if the individual by this point has not already begun to undergo counseling or therapy or the process of searching for a therapist or counselor, the diocese will assist in the process of finding a suitable therapist covered by the victim’s private insurance, and will cover any out -of-pocket expenses that the individual may incur in undergoing therapy.
“The diocese in particular, and the Church in the United States in general, acknowledges that there were many people who were hurt by sex abuse in the past, and we have made a commitment to attempt to help them with their healing process as much as we can,” Dr. Hansen noted.
“The Diocese has had and will continue to have strong policies and procedures in place to make sure that our kids are as safe as possible when participating in parish, school or diocesan activities,” O’Brien added.
“Child safety is an ongoing commitment,” he continued “and we continually seek ways to improve our program.”