By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published September 6, 2018 | En Español
ATLANTA—The Office of Child and Youth Protection is preparing for an audit of the 2017-2018 school year. An on-site audit of all American dioceses is conducted once every three years by the independent StoneBridge Business Partners.
“The auditors will be here the week of Oct. 8,” said Perla Freed, director of the Safe Environment program for the Atlanta archdiocese.
Two parishes and two schools will be visited as part of the StoneBridge audit and their records and paperwork on volunteers reviewed. The schools and parishes to be visited are not announced ahead of time.
“They publish an annual report every year based on all of the results of the audit nationwide,” said Freed.
National audit results are available online at the archdiocesan website.
“It’s been published for years now, over a decade,” she said.
During the two years when not having on-site audits, dioceses are still required to collect data on how many people have taken VIRTUS training, and the number of background checks conducted.
In Atlanta, more than 24,000 background checks have been completed since January 2015. Background screenings include criminal history and sex offender registry checks.
Freed said the numbers are significantly down nationwide from the amount of pre-charter claims of clergy abuse against minors.
One claim is too many, said Freed and Sue Stubbs, who directs victim assistance, but they also know the reality of the issue and realize people may not want to hear that.
“It’s never not going to be there,” said Stubbs. “It’s part of the human condition.”
They believe the answer is working hard to prevent abuse and to be transparent.
More than 30,000 clergy members, employees and volunteers in the archdiocese have attended VIRTUS “Protecting God’s Children” training since January 2016.
Over 40,000 children in kindergarten to 12th grade received age-appropriate and faith-based safe environment training, VIRTUS “Empowering God’s Children,” during the most recent school year. The figures include students in archdiocesan schools and minors enrolled in religious education programs at parishes. Children are prepared to recognize abuse and protect themselves. Parents can opt out their child of the program but receive a guide for talking about the issue with their kids.
Teaching children has to come from home as well, said Freed.
“That may be their saving grace,” she suggested.
If someone at home has taught a child what is not appropriate touching, it may be their only chance to defend themselves.
Children are taught to respect adults, especially teachers and priests, but parents can still encourage young people to speak up if they feel uncomfortable.
“It’s OK to say ‘no’ to an adult, and you have to tell me when that happens,” is the message Freed encourages parents to share.