By Tony C. Diaz
Umatuna Si Yuos
The Archdiocese of Agaña has completed months of extensive work, this week adopting the new Policy on the Protection of Children and Young People from Sexual Abuse which fully aligns with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes signed the policy and two other key documents related to safeguarding our youth from sexual abuse this past Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017.
All three documents can be accessed on the archdiocese’s newly revamped website at https://www.aganaarch.org
“The completion of this comprehensive policy is a vital part of our overall work to protect young people entrusted to our care,” Archbishop Byrnes said this week.
“I call on all people who work or volunteer in our Catholic Church on Guam to be well acquainted with the policy,” the archbishop said. “Let the cries of the many individuals who have suffered abuse in our Church fuel our commitment to safeguard our children in the utmost of ways.”
The new policy upholds a commitment made by the archdiocese nine months ago.
Archbishop Byrnes announced last Feb. 6 that the archdiocese was adopting the USCCB’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Grim-faced in the midst of rapidly increasing allegations of sexual abuse against the archdiocese, Archbishop Byrnes told a room full of priests, religious and school administrators last February that the move was absolutely necessary.
“I really ask you to support and embrace the Charter,” Archbishop Byrnes said. “I’m passionate about this. I’m serious about this. It’s just the right thing to do.”
The archdiocesan policy includes the following three distinct functional elements:
Safe Environment Program to screen and train the clergy, employees and volunteers serving in the -archdiocese, and to promulgate a basic code of conduct;
Community Outreach Program to provide support and counseling in the hopes of promoting the healing process; and
A review process to determine whether allegations of abuse are substantiated and to initiate appropriate actions.
The policy and related documents are the result of some nine months of diligent work by an array of dedicated Catholics with background in social work, law enforcement, civil law, canon law, education and church ministry and other areas. Most are volunteers who worked with Father Jeff San Nicolas, Delegate General of the Coadjutor Archbishop, in developing the documents and related activities such as training at the schools and parishes.
The Safe Environment Ad Hoc Committee is comprised of John Weisenberger, J.D. (lead person); Rita Duenas, Ed.D; Paul Fisher, Esq.; Deacon Steve Martinez; Father Karl Vila, J.C.L.; and Tricia Tenorio.
Members of the Independent Review Board who worked on the policy include: Juan Rapadas, Ph. D., chairperson; Eric Barnes, Sr.; Mariles Benavente; Joseph Diaz; Sister Trinie Pangelinan, RSM; Virginia Yasuhiro, MSW; and Tenorio.
Tenorio, the Safe Environment Coordinator, based at the Chancery, is the only archdiocesan staffer on the Review Board and has been instrumental in coordinating the various meetings of the above groups. She has experience working for Alee Shelter under Catholic Social Service. The other members are longtime social work professionals with many years of experience in their field.
Another integral part of the archdiocese’s Safe Environment Program is the Task Force for the Protection of Minors, which was formed in Sept. 2016. This group has been invaluable in its work training employees and volunteers at our schools and parishes on sexual abuse awareness, prevention and reporting requirements.
The task force members are Sarah Thomas-Nededog, chairperson; John Weisenberger, J.D.; Vincent P. Pereda, MSW, BCD, LMHC; Ray Fernandez; Josephine Fernandez; and Lydia D. Tenorio.
The archdiocese’s new policy states: “In unity with the bishops of the United States, the Archdiocese of Agaña recognizes that sexual abuse constitutes one of the most serious breaches of trust in human relationships and that it can have devastating consequences for the victim and his/her family, the church community, and society at large.”
The two other documents which have been developed as part of the policy are 1.) The Archdiocese of Agaña’s Safe Environment Program and 2.) The Archdiocese of Agaña Policy for the Independent Review Board.
The Safe Environment Program document conveys the code of conduct expected for all who are employed or volunteer in the archdiocese, explains the rights of parents, and outlines requirements and standards for carrying out ministries involving children and young people as well as the proper reporting procedures when abuse is suspected or discovered.
The Policy for the Independent Review Board describes the function, procedures and standards of the group which is integral to the archdiocese’s Safe Environment policy.
The Review Board is “a confidential consultative body to the archbishop, advising the archbishop: 1. in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors, offering advice on all aspects of these cases, whether retrospectively or prospectively; 2. in his determination of suitability for ministry of clergy, employees or volunteers; and 3. in reviewing archdiocesan policies for dealing with the sexual abuse of minors. (Charter, Article 2; Essential Norm 4.)”