Safe Environments Summit discusses moving forward

BRIDGEPORT—“There is tremendous hope in a difficult climate,” said diocesan director of Safe Environments Erin Neil, at the Safe Environments Leadership Summit held this morning in Queen of Saints Hall at the Catholic Center.

“Christ is our true healer and he will help guide us through this time as he has in all times,” said Neil who gave a brief overview of the Dallas Charter and also introduced survivors of clerical sexual abuse who now lead the diocesan Committee for Hope and Healing.

Neil said revisions that began on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2013 have already been in place in our diocese since 2003. These revisions include extending the charter to include all individuals working with young people and to include vulnerable adults. These revisions were passed and are to be put in place in other dioceses in June of 2018.

Survivor group members Peter Philipp, Peggy Fry and Joseph Cann shared difficult and heartbreaking stories of their own experiences with abuse and answered questions from the more than 60 religious educators in attendance.

They expressed the joy they felt upon getting to experience the Mass of Reparation, which took place at St. Augustine Cathedral on Saturday, September 15.

Philipp told the gathered that he turned to Fry during the Mass and said, “I am so sad that we had to have this,” to which she responded, “but aren’t you glad we did?”

Survivors discussed how abuse changes lives and how important it is to look for and notice signs. “If you think it might be [abuse]…report it,” said Philipp.

The survivors each explained their difficult yet crucial journey toward healing.

“We are going to work at healing our Church…you are our beginning,” expressed Fry.

Philipp explained, “We [in our diocese] are very lucky to have Bishop Caggiano as our leader.”

Survivors expressed how grateful they were that Bishop Caggiano held a “listening session” for survivors when he first arrived in the diocese.

“I thought no one wanted to hear my story…but bishop listened,” said Fry. “He said ‘tell me what you want me to know about you’ and listened to 15 of us tell our stories.”

Fry expressed how the Church will not be able to heal until ‘we get to the bottom of it,’ “You may not have been affected yourself but you have been affected because you are the Church and this has happened to the Church.”

In response to the discussion, an attendee voiced her hope for the Church, saying, “I still believe, more than ever, in this diocese, in Bishop Caggiano, in the Safe Environments program.”

“With an emphasis on moving forward,” Peter Philipp expressed, “the new Church is going to be a stronger Church.”

Those attending the summit also learned about resources for survivors, procedures on maintaining Safe Environments in the diocese, and an overview of Safe Environments training programs for children and parents.

Presenting at the summit were Erin Neil, Director of Safe Environments for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Rose Talbot-Babey, Coordinator of Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of Bridgeport ,Patrick Donovon, Director of the Leadership Institute for the Diocese of Bridgeport, and Deacon John DiTaranto, Safe Environment Program Assistant, and Astrid Alvarez, VIRTUS Training & Development Specialist for the Diocese of Bridgeport. Survivors included Peter Philip, Peggy Fry, and Joseph Cann, father of an abuse survivor.

The Safe Environment program in the Diocese of Bridgeport has a full-time director, Ms. Erin Neil, L.C.S.W. Safe Environment programs oversee the implementation of Charter mandates including victim assistance, criminal background checks, written Codes of Conduct, and child sexual abuse awareness and prevention training for Priests, Deacons, Lay Employees, Volunteers, Children, and Youth. For questions or concerns relating to Safe Environments, Background Checks, VIRTUS Awareness Training, Resources for Victims of Abuse or Mandated Reporting, please contact: Erin Neil L.C.S.W., Director of Safe Environments by phone: (203) 416-1406; (203) 650-3265 or email: