The new head of the U.S. bishops' youth protection office said that the Catholic Church has the ability to challenge other groups in society to improve their approach to preventing child sex abuse.
“We have an opportunity here to lead by example,” said Deacon Bernard V. Nojadera, who was recently appointed as leader of the bishop conference's Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.
“Child sex abuse is not just a Church issue – this is a societal issue,” he told CNA in a June 10 interview.
A former director of the San Jose Diocese’s youth protection office in California, Deacon Nojadera will begin his new position in Washington, D.C. on August 15. He succeeds Teresa Kettelkamp, who has headed the bishops' office since 2005.
The deacon brings a wealth of practical experience with him in his new role, including his decades-long work with children who have been abused and neglected.
“I've been blessed to become friends with some of the survivor victims that I've worked with and they have shown me their journey through their eyes,” he said.
“Those experiences have given me the ability to do what I have done in the San Jose office. And I'll hopefully be able to carry that out when I go to Washington, D.C.”
A husband and father of two who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps, Deacon Nojadera said his work with child victims began after he received a master's degree in social work from San Jose State University in 1991.
After being hired at a local clinic, “I ended up getting assigned to work with families and children,” specifically those who had been neglected and or abused, he recalled. “That ended up being the bulk of my work.”
Deacon Nojadera said that since news of sex abuse within the Church broke in 2002, bishops in the U.S. Church have made dealing with the issue a top priority – so much so, that others could benefit from their example.
“What we have here is the ability to hopefully become change agents,” he said. “To help create shifts in attitude, shifts in heart and mind about the evil of abuse.”
The deacon said that leaders in the Church have taken practical measures such as continually working to improve the 2002 Dallas Charter – a set of procedures drafted by the bishops to address and prevent sex abuse within the U.S. Church.
He said that bishops have also learned from past mistakes in dealing with sex abuse cases and are on the societal forefront in pushing dialogue on the issue.
“I think these have all been pluses as far as making the reality of child sex abuse a priority in the Church,” he said.
The deacon observed that despite the Church having the lowest number of abuse cases as compared to other institutions across the U.S., one incident is still “one too many.”
He also noted the Church's obligation to speak out against other societal ills, in addition to child sex abuse.
“I would be remiss to not acknowledge or identify the realities of elder abuse, domestic violence, spousal abuse and fiduciary abuse,” he said, adding that the Church's consistent stance against all forms of abuse give it the “opportunity to influence” others.
In addition to his background in social work, Deacon Nojadera also holds a master's degree in theology from St. Patrick's seminary in Menlo Park.
He's also been a member of the San Jose Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the YWCA Rape Crisis Center and the County of Santa Clara Interfaith Clergy Project for Elder Abuse Prevention.
He was ordained a deacon in 2008 and has headed the San Jose diocesan child protection office since 2002.
An impressive resume is just one of the aspects that have earned Deacon Nojadera the praise of his colleagues.
“Deacon Nojadera brings to this position valuable experience from many areas,” said Msgr. David Malloy, general secretary of the bishops' conference, who appointed him for the role.
“He is a family man and trained social worker, who is familiar with the church both at the parish and diocesan level and with law enforcement. He understands the need for child protection services in all areas.”
Diane Knight – chair of the National Review Board which oversees the work of the bishops' child protection office – also expressed her enthusiasm over the deacon's new position.
“Bernard Nojadera has the experience to understand the issues we face in the 21st century,” she said. “The National Review Board looks forward to his work in support of its efforts to assist the bishops in ensuring the safety of children and young people in parishes and schools.”
Yet despite his life accomplishments and numerous qualifications for the role, Deacon Nojadera displays a tangible humility.
“I am just a servant – and I'm open and willing to go and do whatever needs to be done,” he told CNA.
He said that throughout his life journey, “I've had to learn quickly that it's not my plan – it's God's plan.”