WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Christy Schiller, right, of Praesidium leads a May 11 workshop at Newman Theological College for archdiocesan staff on sexual abuse prevention.
Those wanting to volunteer in Church ministries, especially ministries dealing with children and teens, will undergo a criminal background check and their references will be thoroughly checked.
That's because the Edmonton Archdiocese is working to create a safe environment where sexual abuse of children doesn't occur.
For this purpose, the archdiocese has obtained the services of Praesidium, a Texas-based company that offers Called to Protect, the most up-to-date, comprehensive safe environments program available today.
The company has already offered three leadership workshops in Edmonton, the first to the priests of the archdiocese last November. The other two were delivered May 10-11 at Newman Theological College for all Church personnel.
Each parish will have trained leaders to present the program to parish ministers and volunteers. Praesidium will soon begin training a group of selected people that will offer training at the parish level.
Those in Church leadership must ensure that all Church employees and volunteers are suitable to be in positions of trust with minors and that all Church-sponsored activities and programs ensure the safety of program participants, said Christy Schiller, Praesidium's director of religious accreditation.
"You as leaders in the Church are going to play an important role in the success of this initiative," Schiller said during the four-hour workshop.
Called to Protect for Ministries teaches pastors, catechists, volunteers and other adults in positions of trust with minors a five-step approach to operating safe Church programs.
These include screening of applicants for job positions, policies that define acceptable verbal and physical interactions between adults and children, effective monitoring of adults who work with children, safe environment training and how to respond to inappropriate interactions or allegations of abuse.
In regards to screening for applicants, the program teaches what to look for on an application, how to get useful information from references, the importance of sex offender and criminal background checks, and questions to ask during interviews.
The training program includes a video that uses interviews with Catholic leaders, child development experts, child molesters, and young victims of abuse and guided group discussion.
"Sexual abuse is an important topic that we need to talk about that we really haven't talked about enough as a society," Schiller said.
Father Greg Bittman, the archdiocese's chancellor, said the Praesidium initiative is part of the archdiocese's commitment to protecting children from abuse.
"We are trying to create safe environments so sexual abuse doesn't occur," he said in an interview.
"The diocese is always looking for ways to improve and do things better. I think that the main thing is creating an environment where people are safe from abuse and yet the Church can still operate and do the things that she does."
Bittman said when the archdiocese learned that there were programs like Called to Protect available, "we thought it would be very beneficial for the diocese."
Bittman said the implementation of the Praesidium program would not prevent contact between priests and young people but make it safer.
"(The program) is not saying that you cannot have contact with children but it has to be appropriate."
The plan is to have all the leadership trained by the fall. Volunteers will be trained next and a code of conduct should be in place by the start of 2012.
"We have our abuse policies in place now but we are working on standards and code of conduct. That would be the next thing that we would roll out."
Huggers should let the child initiate the hug, Schiller said at the workshop. "If the child wants a hug, let them come to you and initiate the hug and that's teaching kids good boundaries too."
In an interview, Schiller said the archdiocese, like many dioceses in the U.S., is seeking an accreditation "to verify that they are doing everything up to industry standards in child abuse prevention."