BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has re-promulgated the Diocesan Safe Environments policies and practices for the protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults.
In a formal decree, issued on October 30, the bishop said the new policy and handbook will become effective immediately and available online in its entirety.
“As Catholics, we share a sacred obligation to protect all of God’s Children, especially the children, youth and vulnerable adults who are entrusted to our care,” the bishop said.
Printed copies of the revised Safe Environments Handbook along with information for reporting suspected abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport will be posted in a central location in all Churches and Schools, where they can be easily accessed and a copy of the Safe Environments Handbook should be made available on all school and parish websites.
“As our society and the Catholic Church face new challenges when it comes to the problem of child sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, we must continue to strengthen our response to this problem to ensure a safe environment, therefore we are issuing our third update to our policies and procedures relating to our implementation of the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in the Diocese of Bridgeport,” said Bishop Caggiano.
The bishop said he is grateful to Erin Neil, director of Safe Environments, to members of the review board and to all staff and volunteers who worked on the report and participate in the program.
“Our diocese has shown great leadership in the areas of early detection, reporting and prevention of abuse and I am grateful for the support and cooperation of our ongoing efforts to safeguard children, youth and vulnerable adults,” he said.
Erin Neil said the diocese remains fully committed to upholding the highest standards set forth in the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
- A list of numbers for reporting allegations of abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult are now located on the front cover of the Safe Environments Handbook
- A third party-reporting hotline option for victims
- Procedures for reporting abuse of a vulnerable adult
- Procedures for reporting an allegation of abuse to police in addition to the CT Department of Children and Family Services
- Procedures for reporting an allegation of abuse involving a U.S. bishop or cardinal
- Procedures for reporting suspected boundary violations and grooming behaviors toward minors and vulnerable adults
The new handbook also updates training information on identifying early warning signs and grooming behaviors in offenders of child sexual abuse and abuse of vulnerable adults and the definition of vulnerable adult, makes changes to the Sexual Misconduct Review Board process to include the review of allegations against deceased clerics, and updates the definition of a Credible Allegation.
With the publication of the new handbook the diocese also provides the CT Department of Children and Family Services updated definitions of abuse. It also updates training and criminal background check requirements for visiting members of the clergy.
Many of the changes and new procedures have been made in response to the recommendations included in the historic 2019 Accountability Investigation and report conducted by Judge Robert Holzberg.
“The judge’s recommendations were designed to further strengthen our efforts to address the ever-growing challenges we face as a Church and as a society to prevent abuse and assist victims. The bishop has incorporated them into the policies of the diocese,” Neil said.
In 2015, the bishop issued a revised set of policies relating to the implementation of the Charter in our diocese which are to be reviewed every five years.
Neil said the renewal of criminal background checks and Safe Environments training related to the policies contained within the revised 2020 Safe Environments Handbook will continue for all members of the clergy, lay employees, tenants, vendors, independent contractors and volunteers.
The changes include volunteers who do not have scheduled contact with children, every five or 10 years based on their ministry, utilizing VIRTUS, Protecting God’s Children for Adults program and the VIRTUS database for parishes and school to track completion of these items.
Safe Environments training will continue annually for all students enrolled in a Catholic School through virtual or live instruction utilizing The Child Lures Prevention Program, Think First and Stay Safe and Personal Safety Training utilizing the Netsmartz.org program for middle school and high school students.
Parishes will make available Safe Environments training for parents and children enrolled in religious education programs using online instruction through the Netsmartz.org and Kidsmartz.org videos in order to complement the training that children receive through their public school.
“Parents may choose to teach this at home and opt-out of Safe Environments training at a parish or school by placing their request in writing. Training materials are publicly available and located on our diocesan website,” Neil said.
Printed copies of the revised Safe Environments Handbook along with information for reporting suspected abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport must be posted in a central location in all Churches and schools where they can be easily accessed and a copy of the Safe Environments Handbook should be made available on all school and parish websites.
Beginning in November for tracking purposes, VIRTUS will have the revised policies and procedures uploaded to their website. Parish employees and volunteers may log into their VIRTUS account and sign these electronically or your parish Safe Environments coordinator will be able to quickly log receipt of the handbook into a parish VIRTUS database by searching a person’s name.
(For assistance with this step, contact Astrid Alvarez, VIRTUS training and Development Specialist 203.416.1407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)