Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

BRIDGEPORT—The Diocese of Bridgeport has been found compliant with all audited articles within the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for the audit period of July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2021.

The announcement was made by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano after receiving notice from StoneBridge Business Partners of Rochester, New York, a national financial auditing firm specially trained to review diocesan compliance to the USCCB charter.

It is the first time the diocese has not received a management letter with additional recommendations after the audit. Courtney Schenkel, CPA and Thom Englert, CPA were the lead auditors for StoneBridge.

“I am deeply grateful to our Safe Environments Office and to everyone who has made this achievement possible,” said Bishop Caggiano. “The successful audit is the culmination of years of commitment to Safe Environments on the part of so many people who have contributed to the record of zero tolerance, transparency and accountability.”

The bishop said he was also particularly grateful to the members of the Victims/Survivors Group who have stepped forward to help the diocese in its ongoing prevention efforts.

“While they have suffered greatly as a result of clerical abuse, the group members have had the courage to come forward, to help others and to work for prevention programs that make all of our children and vulnerable safer. This most positive report is as much a tribute to our survivors as it is to all those in the diocese who have worked so hard,” said Bishop Caggiano.

The year’s comprehensive audit included an onsite visit from the StoneBridge audit team in early November for in-person interviews with members of the Sexual Misconduct Review Board, and with Bishop Caggiano and diocesan leaders, along with phone interviews conducted with pastors, directors of Religious Education, and others.

The diocesan audit response was led by Erin Neil, L.C.S.W., director of Safe Environments & victim assistance coordinator, and Anne McCrory, chief legal officer.

“Given the comprehensive review that this audit involves, to emerge with no management letter or any recommendations is a truly amazing feat. Our Safe Environments Office at the Diocese of Bridgeport defines best practices when it comes to the USCCB Charter and the work of Erin and her team demonstrates the tremendous dedication, diligence and compassion that this work requires. We are blessed to have a respected leader in this work right here in our own diocese,” said McCrory.

“We’re very pleased to be able to say that it is extremely rare for an audit to be made without recommendations,” Neil said, thanking all of those who met with the auditor. “Throughout the interviews, they were impressed by the transparency and the extensive amount of outreach that Bishop Caggiano and the diocese have provided to survivors.”

The on-site audit reviewed in depth the diocesan implementation of all the major articles of the charter over the past 36 months.

The diocese provided over 400 pages of examples of outreach and information regarding its training programs in schools and parishes. The auditor also reviewed the diocesan Safe Environments Handbook, which was updated in November 2020, to incorporate Judge Robert Holzberg’s recommendations after issuing his independent and historic Clerical Sexual Abuse Accountability Report On October 1, 2019.

In November of last year as a result of the Judge’s report, Safe Environments guidelines were updated, particularly the reporting protocol for vulnerable adults, institutions of continuing education, and training on how to recognize and report concerns involving a person over the age of 18.

The Safe Environments office coordinates criminal background checks for volunteers and employees, and trains bout 6,000 people annually as part of its prevention program.

Neil said the three-year audit focused on criminal background checks, training programs and other protocols in place to protect children and vulnerable adults, and reviewed the topics represented into the following articles of the Charter:  

  • Examples supportive of efforts that were made this audit period in which outreach was offered to victims of sexual abuse as a minor, and their families if applicable, by anyone in church service.
  • Policies and procedures for receiving and responding to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by anyone in church service. Documents showing that procedures for making a complaint of sexual abuse of a minor are communicated at least annually through a public announcement. Examples can include newspaper articles, radio spots, website information, or bulletin announcements.
  • Verification that the diocesan review board exists, has a lay majority not in the employ of the diocese, and has met when allegations were raised.
  • Documentation that allegations of sexual abuse of a minor are referred to the public authorities and that victims are advised of their rights to report their abuse to the public authorities.
  • Review of procedures to remove clerics from ministry in cases when there is sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric and review of a listing of clergy removed from ministry or dismissed from the clerical state.
  • Evidence that the diocesan standards of ministerial behavior are publicized to the parish, school, and community.
  • Evidence of compliance with maintaining safe environment training for clergy, those admitted to priestly or diaconal formation, staff, volunteers, parents, youth and children.
  • Background evaluations for all incardinated and non-incardinated clergy engaged in ministry in the diocese/eparchy, those admitted to priestly or diaconal formation, staff, and volunteers whose duties include criminal background checks, policies for screening of seminarians and deacon candidates, techniques used to evaluate seminarians and deacon candidates, letters of suitability, etc.
  • Review of policies and procedures and any actual transfer of a clergy if they have committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor.
  • Review of any meetings with major superiors of clerical religious institutes (or the representatives of either).
  • Review of cooperative or collaborative activities that the diocese may have taken over the past audit period regarding research in the area of child abuse in society, i.e. The CARA study.
  • Documentation of any programs the diocese may have sponsored in the past audit period to assist priests, deacons and seminarians in human formation, including observing chastity and, where applicable, celibacy, and in living out their vocations in faithful and integral ways.

The U.S.C.C.B Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a comprehensive set of procedures originally established by the USCCB in June 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The Charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse. It was revised in 2005, 2011 and 2018.

The Charter directs action in all the following matters: Creating a safe environment for children and young people; healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors; making prompt and effective response to allegations and cooperate with civil authorities; disciplining offenders and providing for means of accountability for the future.

The diocese uses the “VIRTUS Protecting God’s Children” program to educate adults about the warning signs of sexual abuse and safe boundaries that all adults must adhere to when working with minors and vulnerable adults. The program was recently updated to include technology and social networking safety.

All children enrolled in the Catholic schools receive annual Safe Environment training through the Child Lures Prevention, Think First & Stay Safe (K-8). High School students receive Personal Safety Training through the Think First & the Netsmartz program on technology safety. Likewise, parents with children enrolled in religious education are encouraged to attend Safe Environments training to supplement the Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum available in public schools.

To report suspected abuse contact: Erin Neil, L.C.S.W., diocesan director of Safe Environments and victim assistance coordinator: 203.650.3265 or Michael Tintrup, L.C.S.W., victim assistance counselor, 203.241.0987. Mandated reporters must also directly report any incident of sexual abuse of a minor to the State of Connecticut Child Abuse and Neglect Careline: 1.800.842.2288.

To register to attend VIRTUS, Protecting God’s Children for Adults, please visit www.virtusonline.org. Select Registration and select Bridgeport Diocese.

For more information, visit the Save Environments website: www.bridgeportdiocese.org/safe-environments/home)

TRUMBULL—The Diocese of Bridgeport is reaching out to the families who had a loved one die of COVID-19 last year to let them know they can receive up to $9000 for related funeral expenses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We see this as an opportunity to reach out to the families of the 1600 people we buried last year to inform them,” said Dean Gestal, the Director of Catholic Cemeteries. “We can identify 350 we know died of COVID, and there are obviously many more who will be able to recoup some money for funeral expenses and burials.”

In addition, a letter will go out from Bishop Frank J. Caggiano for pastors to read and publish in their parish bulletins, announcing the FEMA program.

Gestal’s office is also sending letters to the 1600 families that buried a loved one in the Catholic cemeteries during 2020 to explain the requirements to obtain the financial assistance.

He said the Catholic Cemeteries Office of the Diocese of Bridgeport is available to assist with any burial information required to file for this assistance, as well as discuss and plan for future needs. (For more information, visit: bridgeportdiocese.org/fema or call the Catholic Cemeteries office at 203.416.1494 or email dtotten@diobpt.org.)

The new FEMA program provides up to $9,000 for COVID-19 related funeral expenses incurred between January 20, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

You must meet the following conditions to be eligible:

  • The death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.
  • The death certificate must indicate the death was attributed to COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020. (There is no requirement for the deceased person to have been a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or qualified alien).

FEMA will reimburse families up to $9,000 for COVID-related funeral and burial costs; however, different factors will determine who is eligible to receive the full amount or a portion of the funds.

Before applications open up in April, FEMA recommends those who may be eligible gather the following documentation:

  • An official death certificate that attributes the death directly or indirectly to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the U.S., including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. (You can obtain one by contacting the State Vital Records Office or vital records office where the death occurred. Sometimes a cemetery, funeral home, or a third-party provider can also request this information).
  • Documents that detail funeral expenses, such as receipts, cemetery contract, funeral home contract, etc. They must include the applicant’s name, the deceased person’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and the dates the funeral expenses were incurred.
  • Proof of funds received from other sources specifically for use toward funeral costs. FEMA will not duplicate benefits received from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, government agencies or other sources.

BRIDGEPORT—  The Diocese has launched the “Call to Renewal” website to serve as a guide to the Year of St. Joseph and overall renewal efforts.

The website is designed to provide information related to the spiritual and pastoral renewal of the diocese as called for in Bishop Caggiano’s Pastor Exhortation, “Let us Enter the Upper Room with the Lord.”

“I come to you now, when many may be wondering about the future direction of our Church, to invite you to begin this spiritual journey with me, seeking the Lord’s grace to transform this time of suffering into a springtime of renewal for the life of the Church,” he said in his introductory letter.

The website includes updates on the Year of St. Joseph, the Diocesan Ambassadors Program, opportunities for Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration, and more.

“I pray that you will find these resources helpful as we seek to renew our Church in Fairfield County,” said the bishop.

Materials on the website include an introduction from the bishop, a link to his  Pastoral Exhortation in its entirety, which is available in both English and Spanish.  A professionally recorded audio version is also available for those who prefer to listen to it as they drive or perform other tasks.

The website will also feature weekly “Notes from the Upper Room” by Bishop Caggiano along with a timeline explaining the Year of St. Joseph as well as liturgies and activities during the renewal period.

The bishop issued his Pastoral Exhortation on Ash Wednesday urging the people of the diocese to move forward in faith and evangelization. In the letter, he provides the framework that will make it possible by designating  Centers of Mercy and Centers of Eucharistic Adoration throughout the diocese.  He also calls for the commissioning of lay “Ambassadors” to go out into the community later in the year to share their faith and invite others back to the Church. The ambassador training is now underway in the diocese and the new website will feature many of their stories.

To visit the “Call to Renewal” website: https://www.bridgeportdiocese.org/call-to-renewal/welcome/, or click “A Call to Renewal” at the top of our Homepage.