Safe Environments Audit shows historic progress

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 Select Registration and select Bridgeport Diocese.

For more information, visit the Save Environments website: