The Catholic Church in the Spotlight Again

The Catholic Church in the Spotlight Again



Rev. Monsignor Francis V. Cilia
Vicar General, Diocese of San Jose

The release this week of the movie, “Spotlight,” chronicling The Boston Globe’s investigation into the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston and beyond, is a painful reminder of past crimes committed against children by those clerics who should have been protectors of the very same young people. Vatican Radio has praised the film as “honest” and “compelling,” saying that the Globe’s coverage of the scandal – for which it won a Pulitzer Prize – helped the Church in the United States “to accept fully the sin, to admit it publicly and to pay the consequences.”

The film has great potential to serve the Catholic Church and wider society in positive and constructive ways, for the lesson that should ever be before us is that of constant vigilance, of training, of continuing resolve that those heinous events – and their equally appalling cover-up – can never be repeated. In the Diocese of San Jose, policies and procedures were implemented soon after the Diocese was established in 1981; in 2002, these policies were renewed and strengthened in keeping with the national Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the bishops of the United States had passed that June.

Our Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults oversees safe environment training of children and adults, background checks on all clergy, employees and volunteers, and offers outreach to injured persons. The independent Diocesan Review Board, chaired by Justice Edward Panelli, retired justice of the California State Supreme Court, examines past, present and future allegations of any kind of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons.
Promise-to-Protect-Pledge-to-HealHere are some highlights of our practice and experience:

• A zero tolerance policy: No one with a credible allegation of child abuse may function in any ministry in the Diocese of San Jose.

• Fingerprinting and background checks: Anyone who works with children and young people must be fingerprinted and undergo a background check. This includes clergy, religious, staff and volunteers. More than 37,000 staff and volunteers have been fingerprinted.

• Safe Environment Programs: Students in Catholic schools and religious instruction (“catechism”) annually participate in a safe environment program to help promote awareness and teach them about safe adults, safe contact and who to turn to for help when needed. 33,000 students received training last year.

• Shield the Vulnerable Training: In addition to fingerprinting, all diocesan staff, clergy and volunteers who work with children are required to receive training every three years on how to identify and protect children from abuse as well as how to fulfill their responsibilities as mandated reporters who are required to inform civil authorities about suspected child abuse. More than 24,000 people have completed the training within the last three years. Renewal of this training is ongoing.

“Spotlight” details events of more than a decade ago. Due in no small part to the efforts of that investigative team from the Globe and to the work undertaken in dioceses throughout the world, and in particular in the United States and in the Diocese of San Jose, our future is brighter than the past.