Updated safeguarding policies released in diocese of Saskatoon

Cathedral of Holy Family in Saskatoon (Photo by Timothy Yaworski)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon has released updated policies to ensure safe church environments, as well as to prevent and deal with misconduct or sexual abuse,

“It is very good to announce the latest diocesan efforts to assure that our church environments and programs are safe and supportive to all people, but in particular children, youth, and vulnerable people – as we continue to carry out the very important and needed ministry programs of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon,” said Bishop Mark Hagemoen June 30, 2019.

An Advisory Committee established in the spring of 2018 has reviewed and updated the following diocesan protocols:

  1. Covenant of Care Safe Environment
  2. Allegations of Serious Misconduct Protocol (including Sexual Abuse)
  3. Code of Conduct

The bishop noted that the diocesan Advisory Committee took into account both the national guidelines from the Canadian bishops released in September 2018, entitled “Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse”, as well as the May 2019 apostolic letter from Pope Francis: “VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI: You Are the Light of the World.”

“These developments build on the work over the last several years by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon to have in place strong and up-to-date ‘best practices’ for safe environments in all our churches and programs for children, youth, and adults under the oversight and direction of the diocese, including all of its churches,” Hagemoen said.

“It is my hope and commitment that our church environments are leaders not only in implementing the best ‘safe-environment’ protocols, but also when dealing with disclosures of historical sexual and other types of abuse,” the bishop added. “The church must also be a leader in hearing the pain of past hurts and incidents, and providing for the healing of victims and all others affected by incidents of serious misconduct, including sexual abuse.”

Advisory Committee Chair Brenda FitzGerald noted the participation of dedicated lay persons who served on the committee, working on the review and update of the policy over the past year. “Their commitment is a testimony to the importance of creating safe environments for all, as part of our baptismal calling and our civic responsibility to protect and cherish others, especially the most vulnerable among us, our children and youth.”

Under the updated diocesan policies and protocols, persons responsible for receiving complaints, and the investigation of alleged serious misconduct – including sexual abuse – are removed from the offices of the Bishop and the Catholic Pastoral Centre.

The following new positions are outlined in the updated policies:

  • Intake Officer(s)who receive complaints of alleged serious misconduct, including alleged sexual abuse. At present, Anne E. Williams, BSW, RSW, SEP, is filling this role, and can be reached at (306) 220-0448 or awilliams.home@gmail.com
  • Serious Misconduct Investigator who will oversee all reporting and investigation procedures for the Covenant of Care and Allegations of Serious Misconduct Protocol. 
  • Victim Support Coordinator who is one of several persons named to provide support and assistance to persons who bring forward allegations of serious misconduct, including sexual abuse.
  • In addition, the mandate of the Advisory Committee now includes:
    • Periodically reviewing and updating policies and protocols related to safe environments and responding to allegations of serious misconduct,
    • Making recommendations regarding prevention strategiesthroughout the Diocese,
    • Providing advice on specific cases and incidents, as needed.

These roles are in addition to the work done at the Catholic Pastoral Centre – in particular by the Diocesan Coordinator of Care, who oversees all training and implementation requirements of the Covenant of Care and Misconduct Protocol in the diocese. This includes:

  • Providing assistance with implementation, maintenance, reporting and investigations,
  • Maintaining the long-term, confidential storage of documentation at the Chancery office, including the regular and ongoing “Criminal Record Checks”, “Code of Conduct” statements, and reference checks designated in the policies.
  • Overseeing training and education efforts at a diocesan level and being available to support training at the parish level.

“Our number one priority is to ensure a safe environment for everyone in our parishes and communities,” Bishop Hagemoen has said of the diocesan review and update. The new policy includes a Code of Conduct that has already been 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 added.

When it comes to reporting of and dealing with any serious misconduct, the updated policies 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. In the case of misconduct of a criminal nature, the diocese urges people to contact police, and commits to fully cooperating with any police investigation.

The new policies are posted on the diocesan website at: Covenant of Care and will be circulated to all parishes, pastors and personnel across the diocese. Training programs are planned, and will begin to be implemented in the fall, said Bishop Hagemoen.