Diocese, civil authorities sign abuse reporting agreement

Reprinted with permission by the Eastern Oklahoma CATHOLIC
2/15/04
Eastern Oklahoma CATHOLIC, Page 12

On Jan. 20, Bishop Edward J. Slattery signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” on behalf of the Diocese of Tulsa with members of the District Attorney’s Task Force on Crimes Against Children, pledging mutual cooperation and coordination in response to allegations of sexual abuse.

“This is monumental in that we could not find anyone else in the country who had something like this,” said Barbara Findeiss, executive director of the Child Abuse Network. “There is a real air of cooperation should a case of child abuse allegations arise on the part of an employee or volunteer in the Diocese of Tulsa.”

Mrs. Findeiss was a signatory to the memorandum, as were District Attorney Tim Harris, Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz, Tulsa Police Chief David Been, Broken Arrow Police Chief Todd Wuestewald, Stephen Scott of the Department of Human Services/Tulsa City-County Child Welfare, and Dr. Robert W. Block, a pediatrician with the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in Tulsa.

In addition to the Bishop, others signing for the Diocese were John Gaberino, chairman of the Diocese of Tulsa Review Board, Stan Swagerty, an FBI agent who is a member of the board, and John Jarboe, attorney for the Diocese.

The agreement was several months in the works and will be followed by specific protocols and procedures to be used by all parties in the event of a child abuse allegation. Ms. Findeiss said the underlying idea is that different agencies have different responsibilities, and all the parties should understand those roles and respect the duties of the others.

The memorandum is intended for the parties to “not get in each other’s way, and more importantly work together to take care of the needs of the child and the family,” she said.

Civil authorities are mandated by law to investigate whether allegations are true, she said. If the allegations are not true, civil authorities have a duty to “get out,” she said.

“People’s lives are changed forever when abuse is alleged. It is imperative that information is gathered quickly and accurately by people who are trained to do it.

“I have heard quite a bit from faith groups – not just Catholics – that it is their obligation to investigate allegations. But that’s what the police are there for and are mandated to do. Investigations are not for lay people,” she said.

At the same time, she said members of the district attorney’s task force understand that the Church has its own laws and procedures it must follow. The goal is for the civil authorities to do their work “with the common goal of determining the truth” and provide the Diocese with information it needs “to make the decisions it needs to make.”

The Memorandum of Understanding is one of the most recent steps the Diocese of Tulsa has taken since the U.S. Bishops met in Dallas in 2002 and adopted a charter on sexual abuse of children. Bishop Slattery also has:

– Established the Diocesan Review Board

– Named the chairman of the Pastoral Response Team to serve as Victim Assistance Coordinator;

– Established procedures for outreach to victims;

– Revised the sexual abuse policy to make it consistent with the Charter;

– Established a code of conduct for clergy and employees;

– Established a code of conduct for volunteers;

– Established a policy on sharing information;

– Contracted for a safe environment program, VIRTUS, “Protecting God’s Children for Adults”;

– Is beginning “What Do I Say Now?” a program to help parents talk to their children about sexual abuse topics

– Screened and done background checks on all clergy, employees and covered volunteers;

– Coordinated with superiors of religious orders;

– Worked to strengthen priestly formation programs;

– Offered VIRTUS training to non-Catholics.

The Diocese of Tulsa’s Review Board was created in 2002 two months after the U.S. bishops adopted their charter on child sexual abuse in Dallas. The members were appointed by Bishop Slattery, as directed by the national norms of the Church, to serve on a board that will make recommendations to the bishop concerning the continuing or future assignment employment of employees and volunteers who are accused of child abuse.

The board’s other members include Deacon John Donnelly, who also is an attorney; Charles Eckelt, a psychotherapist; Father Patrick Gaalaas, pastor of St. Benedict Church; Robert J. LaFortune, former Tulsa mayor; Mark Sadler, a psychologist, and Cathy Webster, a public school teacher in Pryor.

Bishop Edward J. Slattery watches as Barbara Findeiss, executive director of the Child Abuse Network, signs a “Memorandum of Understanding” Jan. 20 between the Diocese of Tulsa and the District Attorney’s Task Force on Crimes Against Children. Seven civil authorities are party to the agreement, in which they and the Diocese pledge mutual cooperation in the event of future allegations of sexual abuse by diocesan employees or volunteers. For story, see page 12.