We Are Not Alone

Thirteen dioceses, eighteen representatives, and a very successful first ever Western Catholic Dioceses Safe Environment Conference.  That's what happened right here in Calgary on March 7, organized by our own Volunteer Screening Coordinator, Barbara Raleigh-Smith, with outstanding help and encouragement from Blake Sittler of the Diocese of Saskatoon. If ever we thought that we were alone or in uncharted waters, we now are certain that we have a lot in common with other jurisdictions working towards safer environments and raising the value of our volunteers and staff and clergy.

What we discovered was that dioceses everywhere want to learn from each other, but there is also a tremendous spirit of sharing. We learned that one diocese is seeking formal accreditation of their sexual abuse prevention procedures. Others are at various stages of providing audit feedback to parishes, including making sure that the lines of communication are wide open in both directions. Still others have put a lot of effort into centralized volunteer databases, including things like secure, fireproof document storage rooms and automated police check renewal reminders.

One thing is clear. We are not alone. Most Catholic jurisdictions are working towards a culture of safety for all, especially children and vulnerable adults. Everyone is at a different place on the journey, of course, but all those at the conference discovered reasons to be affirmed and encouraged at their efforts or were inspired to take the next step of this ongoing journey of establishing a new culture of safety.

As Andrew Papenbrock of the Edmonton Archdiocese said in his presentation to us: "Whether we’ve been involved two months or twenty years, we all still feel like we’re just beginning to deal with this issue." Most of those present, including priests, deacons and laity, indicated some form of this sentiment. We have all had successes and challenges. We have also all had some exciting and unexpected benefits.   

Chris Rigg represents the insurance broker (Capri Insurance) for all western dioceses. Many of those present indicated the importance of this industry as a resource for information about guidelines and risks. Chris's presentation made it clear that this effort has to be a partnership. We need to get all of our partners on board, including those who operate somewhat autonomously, yet are part of the mission work of the Catholic Church. 

We were able to share our Calgary diocesan experience that, as we increase our awareness of the value of those we minister to, so also do we see an increasing awareness of the tremendous value of the volunteers, staff and clergy who minister to the vulnerable. As St. Paul points out: "there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." It is exciting to anticipate what special gift and spirit Pope Francis will bring to the Church. So far, the new Holy Father is clear that we must increase our awareness and concern for the poor and vulnerable.

Those who gathered in Calgary from throughout the west know that procedures are not enough. We have to be a people who carry in our hearts the desire to be examples of Christ's love for those very vulnerable. This is the new culture that is pervading the Church in Western Canada. With God's Holy Spirit and our partners in faith, we are certainly not alone.

This article appeared on the May 2013 issue of the Carillon

Related Offices Carillon Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults
Related Themes Abuse Prevention Safe Environment

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