WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
John Bergin (left), archdiocesan human resources director, leads a session of Called to Protect, Nov. 19 at St. Thomas More Church in Edmonton.
Lay leaders and volunteers in the Edmonton Archdiocese are learning how to deliver safe services to their parishioners, especially children.
The archdiocese is in the process of strengthening its screening procedures for employees and volunteers who work in ministries serving children or vulnerable persons and wants parishes to follow suit.
Kim Wilson, one of 120 parish volunteers who attended a recent workshop on the Called to Protect program for Edmonton's St. Thomas More Parish, said the program is a necessary step in the prevention of abuse.
"To react is too late; lives would have been affected at that time," Wilson said in an interview.
The workshop provided Wilson, a mother of two young children and a volunteer in the parish's children's liturgy program, with information on what to look for and it taught her to "never to put myself at risk."
She said she would never put herself in a position where she is alone with a child.
For the past three months a team has been conducting workshops across the archdiocese to assist parishes in implementing the screening policy and ensuring that all programs and ministries operate in safe environments.
Nearly 3,000 volunteers from about 59 parishes have already taken in Called to Protect. It provides participants with tools to identify inappropriate behaviours, methods to report potential abuse, and best practices in ministering safely to the young and vulnerable.
The program is mandatory for clergy, archdiocesan and parish employees, camp staff and volunteers in medium or high-risk parish ministries.
Praesidium Inc., a U.S.-based firm that specializes in helping churches and other organizations to create safe environments, designed the program. The firm offered training workshops to clergy and Church personnel in late 2010 and mid-2011.
An archdiocesan team as well as some parish-based facilitators are delivering the training workshops in parishes.
Teresa Kellendonk, archdiocesan coordinator of the Called to Protect program, and John Bergin, the archdiocesan human resources director, led the Nov. 19 training workshop at St. Thomas More Church. Combined with a workshop the parish hosted the previous Saturday, 300 people received training at the parish.
The initiative is aimed at creating safer environments, Bergin said as he introduced the program. "It is about prevention of abuse, recognizing it and taking steps to mitigate the chances of abuse taking place."
A typical training session includes the viewing of two videos on identifying child abuse – one providing advice for parents and families, the other focusing on the Church environment.
"This is a new process for the archdiocese," Kellendonk said of the program. "We are changing the culture of our Church here in this archdiocese."
The videos focus on protecting children but many of the principles in the training can be applied to all forms of ministry, said Kellendonk, noting her team broadened the message to include other vulnerable persons such as the elderly, the sick and disabled adults.
"We all know about the stories of sexual abuse to children. But it's about abuse in general – physical, emotional, psychological and sexual. It's all forms of abuse and we want to mitigate that as much as possible."
The focus is on medium and high-risk ministries now "but we encourage all parishes to have all their volunteers attend these sessions."
Medium and high-risk volunteers must undergo a police information check. That's already a requirement for clergy and employees at the Catholic Pastoral Centre.
Factors that lead to a medium or high-risk designation include serving people under 18 or other vulnerable persons; the position requires touching the people served; the activities of the program take place in an isolated area; the position involves transportation of children or vulnerable persons; the position involves handling money or property of the persons served.
At the workshop, Kellendonk recommended participants who work with children or vulnerable persons go out in pairs.
"We want you to go out two by two," she said. "As Jesus said, 'I'm sending the disciples out two by two, seven by seven.' You don't do ministry alone. Christ didn't do that. He did public ministry."
Kellendonk said she doesn't expect the archdiocese will lose volunteers because of the police check. "This really is no different than coaching for a sports group or volunteering in the schools."
Clover Oryschak, president of St. Thomas More CWL council, said she is glad the archdiocese provided her parish with training on creating safe environments. "I hope it goes beyond the people who are active volunteers; I think it's good information for everybody."
Oryschak, a mother of two young children, said the program is appropriate for the parish CWL because it oversees a group of 20 Catholic girls aged 10 to 18.
She said three women who work with the girls have had background checks already. "We want to provide a safe environment for the girls. It's always been important to us to protect children."
The two-and-a-half hour workshop was delivered at St. Matthew's Church Nov. 17. About 40 volunteers serving in high-risk ministries attended the event.
"Everybody sees the value in protecting the children and all the people that we do ministry to," said pastoral associate Mark Guevarra.
Volunteers seem quite receptive to getting their police information check, which Guevarra, 31, sees as "a deterrent for individuals who may want to serve in high-risk ministries but maybe are not suitable for those ministries."
Melissa Cober, who leads children's liturgy at St. Matthew's on Saturday evenings, said it's important to bring programs like Called to Protect to the parish in order to protect the people you serve, especially children.
"It was good," the 21-year-old said. "(Facilitators) just explained how abuse sometimes happens around you and you have to be aware."