The Archdiocese of New York was found in compliance with the data collection requirements for the 2017-2018 audit period of the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The data collection period, from July 2017 through June 2018, marked the 14th consecutive year the archdiocese was fully compliant. The notification came in a Dec. 7 letter to Cardinal Dolan from StoneBridge Business Partners in Rochester, which carries out the audit.
The documentary review audit, conducted offsite this year, focuses on how the archdiocese is handling two major aspects of the Charter: the way allegations of sexual abuse of minors are handled, and how the Safe Environment Program is implemented.
The annual audits facilitate a systematic tracking of cases year to year, said Edward Mechmann, director of the archdiocese’s Safe Environment Program. He said a “running roster” for the handling of complaints, which the annual audits provide, “makes sure we’re still complying with the Charter as far as the processing of complaints is concerned.”
On the Safe Environment side, the audit evaluates statistical information, such as how many archdiocesan personnel and volunteers are in contact with youth and how many background checks have taken place, Mechmann said.
The audit also assesses how parishes, schools and religious education programs are implementing the components and requirements of the Safe Environment Program.
The statistical measures offer assurance the archdiocese is operating in good faith and is performing with due diligence, Mechmann added.
“People can feel some sense of assurance that we are creating an environment where child sex abuse is taken seriously, and we are doing everything we can to prevent it,” he said.
The archdiocesan statistics are included in the audit report the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection prepares for release each June, Mechmann told CNY.
Mechmann went on to say that pastors, school principals and directors of religious education in parishes all spend a great deal of time working to ensure the safety of children and young people.
“All of the people are acting in good faith,” Mechmann said. “They are out there doing the best they can because they realize how important it is.”
The Safe Environment Program sends retired police officers in pairs to make on-site visits to parishes and schools. “We want to make sure everybody knows how to report an incident,” Mechmann said. “One thing we hear from victims of old cases is, ‘I didn’t know who to call.’”
Mechmann said he believes the archdiocese is doing well with its Safe Environment work, but he said he is always seeking to improve. He said he is especially hopeful about enhancements to the archdiocese’s policies and procedures on clergy sexual abuse resulting from the study being conducted by Barbara S. Jones, a former federal judge, who was appointed the archdiocese’s special counsel and independent reviewer by Cardinal Dolan last September.
The leadership on the Safe Environment Program began with the late Cardinal Edward Egan after the U.S. bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002 and has continued under Cardinal Dolan, Mechmann said.
Citing private businesses that conduct education programs at regular intervals, Mechmann said the archdiocese can “piggyback” on that example to “reinforce Safe Environment training for everyone.”
It’s important for pastors, principals, directors of religious education and other archdiocesan employees and volunteers who come into contact with victims of child sexual abuse to learn how to approach with them as competently and compassionately as possible, Mechmann said.
“They need to be listened to and they need to be treated kindly,” he said. “We don’t always do that as well as we should.”