April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an important time for Catholic parishes and schools to highlight how they are keeping God’s children safe.
In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, 32,574 volunteers and staff have clearances and are trained in child abuse prevention, according to Phyllis Haney, secretary for the Secretariat for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults.
“Everyone who is an employee or volunteer learns what child abuse is and how to stop it,” Haney said. “They also must have three clearances and have no record that disqualifies them from working with children.”
The PA State Police Criminal Record Check, PA Child Abuse History Clearance and FBI Fingerprint Clearance or volunteer waiver must be kept on file and renewed every five years. Staff and volunteers also are required to follow the diocesan Pastoral Code of Conduct, especially on how to behave around children and vulnerable adults.
“We go above and beyond state law, requiring everyone who has contact with children in their ministry to take mandated reporter training,” Haney said. “They might suspect or recognize abuse, but they also need to know how to report it.”
The blue pinwheel is the national symbol of child abuse prevention efforts, said Laetitia Bridges, diocesan director of Victims Assistance Ministries.
“It represents the innocence, joy and fun that should be the experience of all children,” she said.
Bridges is the first point of contact for anyone who comes forward to allege abuse by clergy. She said the people she has spoken with were abuse between 20 and 50 years ago.
“We don’t ever want to forget those who have been harmed,” Bridges said. “It only makes us more determined to raise awareness and continue to improve how we protect the vulnerable.”
Parishes are encouraged to tap into resources offered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for creative ways to communicate their support to survivors of sexual abuse, and help educate parishioners on how to continue to protect children.
Anyone who has suffered any abuse at the hands of clergy is asked to contact Bridges at 412-456-3093 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Child abuse prevention tips are available at https://www.usccb.org/committees/communications/abuse-prevention-resources.