Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the USCCB's Office of Child and Youth Protection, said that protective measures were in place prior to 2002, but they "were not comprehensive nor uniformly implemented."
Today, the guidelines of the current Charter are implemented in every diocese in the United States, he said.
"(The guidelines) include measures to promote healing and reconciliation with victims/survivors, guarantee an effective response to allegations, ensure accountability, and protect the faithful in the future. An annual audit of dioceses by an external firm helps to make sure dioceses are effectively implementing the Charter," Nojadera said.
"For example, the audit ensures that: all clergy, volunteers, staff, educators and children are trained to identify and report abuse; all adults with access to children receive background checks; allegations are reported to law enforcement; victim outreach and support is available in every diocese; and offenders are removed from ministry and further access to children," he said.
The Charter also contains guidelines on how to better support victims and prevent abuse, he added. The USCCB also annually publishes a report of the findings of the yearly audits of the dioceses.
Dr. Elizabeth A. Heidt Kozisek is a psychologist and the director of the Child Protection Office for the Diocese of Grand Island, which is in compliance with the charter.
Her diocese, like most throughout the country, has an abuse prevention program called Safe Environment training that is required for all adult employees and volunteers within the diocese, which trains them in preventing abuse, recognizing warning signs, and reporting incidents of abuse.
They also provide children in the diocese with education on appropriate relationships, Kozisek said.
“We educate children and youth in the qualities of right relationships and what to do when a relationship isn’t right; and provide continuing education for youth and adults with a goal of helping all experience right relationships throughout their lifespan,” she said.
“We strive to create a culture of healing and protection, where fostering right relationships, building resilience, and promoting healing are an integral part of who and how we are with children and youth, rather than merely a series of programs.”
Kozisek added that the USCCB charter provides the basic guidelines and principles for child protection in the U.S. dioceses, which then implement them with some specific considerations for their individual communities and the resources available within them.
When abuse allegations are reported, Kozisek said the protocol is first to report the abuse to local law enforcement authorities and to Child Protective Services. The accused person is immediately suspended from ministry pending a legal and internal investigation.
If someone is legally charged, they are immediately barred from ministry. Even if an accused individual is not legally charged, but the internal investigation still finds them “unfit for ministry”, they are removed from their employment or volunteer position, Kozisek said.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
The Archdiocese of New York is also compliant with the USCCB charter, and has trained more than 100,000 people in providing a safe environment for children.
Edward Mechmann, director of public policy for the New York archdiocese, told CNA that the local Church has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to sexual abuse of minors, and that they also follow the protocol of having both legal and internal investigations of each allegation of abuse.
“At the conclusion of our investigation, if the accused is a cleric we submit the case to the Advisory Review Board for evaluation,” he said.
“If they determine that the allegation is substantiated, then a recommendation is made to the cardinal that the cleric be permanently removed from ministry. If the accused is a layperson, and we determine that the allegation is substantiated, then they are discharged from employment or volunteer service and permanently barred from any ministry. As a result, we have a zero tolerance policy that applies equally to clergy and laity.”
Last year, the USCCB found widespread compliance throughout the country in their annual report on the implementation of the charter.
According to the 2016 report, 386 out of the 838 people who reported past abuse as minors accepted diocesan outreach and healing, and continued support was provided to 1,646 victims.