By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
In the days following the “Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church” held Feb. 21 to 24, 2019 at the Vatican, Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon is reiterating the need for ongoing vigilance in preventing and dealing with sexual abuse and misconduct in our local church communities.
“At all levels of the Church, it is vitally important that we hear from any victims themselves, and continue to take steps to ensure that everyone at every age is safe in every church setting,” said Bishop Hagemoen. “It was encouraging and important to again hear Pope Francis clearly telling the bishops of the world that we need concrete and effective measures to deal with this issue.”
In the Diocese of Saskatoon, policies to prevent and deal with sexual abuse and misconduct have been in place for many years, and the existing Covenant of Care policy (which was promulgated in 2012) is presently undergoing an update and review that began in the Spring of 2018.
Covenant of Care policies established in the diocese for the protection of children, youth and vulnerable adults have been routinely and regularly updated over the years – and that is also the case now. The review began as a result of the new appointment of the bishop to this Diocese just over a year ago, who established an independent committee, chaired by Brenda Fitzgerald. Part way through the review, the revelations of sexual abuse by clergy in the United States in August of 2018 brought to mind for the committee how important it is to do regular review and updating of safe environment and serious misconduct policies are for the Church, said Bishop Hagemoen.
“Our number one priority is to ensure a safe environment for everyone in our parishes and communities,” Bishop Hagemoen said of the diocesan review. The new policy includes a Code of Conduct that must be reviewed and signed by every member of clergy, lay staff members, and volunteers in every church setting across the diocese.
“Another priority is to make sure that all of our employees and volunteers who carry out greatly-needed work with minors and vulnerable adults in our churches find structures and protocols to carry out their ministries with and support and transparency,” he said.
When it comes to reporting of and dealing with any serious misconduct, the updated policy will continue to ensure that anyone who comes forward with an allegation of serious misconduct will be met with compassion, and that there will be a response. The diocese strongly encourages contacting the police, and commits to fully cooperating with any police investigation.
In the diocese of Saskatoon, anyone with a concern is also invited to contact one of the diocesan Intake Officers: Contact information to report abuse.
“A significant part of the policy review is incorporating the updated guidelines released in September 2018 by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
The updated and expanded national guidelines for the protection of minors and vulnerable persons were unanimously adopted by the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops (CCCB) Sept. 27 during their 2018 Annual Plenary Assembly in Cornwall, ON. Entitled Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse: A Call to the Catholic Faithful in Canada for Healing, Reconciliation, and Transformation, the new guidelines are an update of a previous document released by Canada’s bishops 25 years earlier in 1992, as well as of a 2007 follow-up document.
The diocese of Saskatoon is working to fully address the new national guidelines, including ensuring:
- Regular and ongoing updates of Covenant of Care policies
- Establishment of an independent Review Audit
- Providing ongoing formation of all persons in ministry in the diocese about:
- Preventing all abuse,
- Raising awareness regarding the grief and trauma for historical victims of abuse,
- Being “victim focused” whenever encountering victims of sexual abuse, whether within or beyond the church,
- Expanding initial and ongoing formation support for those working in the diocese.
Expanded committees and responsibilities in the updated Diocese of Saskatoon policiesaddress:
- Fielding inquiries or complaints,
- Strengthening oversight:
- regularly reviewing protocols,
- overseeing and updating prevention efforts,
- dealing with specific cases if they arise,
- Establishing an independent investigator for complaints.
“I call on all of us to continue to ‘hold the bar high’ in the Diocese of Saskatoon, as we seek to make all of our church and community settings truly safe and respectful environments,” said Bishop Hagemoen.
“We join with Pope Francis as we pray for all victims of sexual and any other forms of abuse; as we are present and caring to all victims, and as we seek God’s grace and inspiration to always improve the safety and sanctity of our church environments.”