National Child Abuse Prevention Month

My dear family in Christ:

One of my diocesan responsibilities for nearly 20 years has been to serve on the Diocesan Review Board. This group made up of a majority of lay people have the responsibility of assisting the bishop and diocese in the development and implementation of safe environment programs and policies, and, in some instances, serves as the primary advisory board to the bishop when an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon is received. While many might think this kind of committee work would be burdensome, I have found it to be some of the most rewarding work I have done. Why? Because I have had the great privilege to work with men and women who have helped the Diocese of Burlington create ministerial and pastoral environments in which our children and vulnerable adults are safe and respected as children of God.

It has been through the work of this committee that our Diocesan Code of Conduct, Ethics and Integrity in Ministry Policy, Safe Environment Training Programs, and other programs and guidelines have been established. This means that all of the adults who work with our children have completed a criminal background check, have completed safe environment training, and have learned what to do if they suspect a child or vulnerable adult under their care is being abused. It means that through the work of this committee, often done with little fanfare, the Catholic Church in Vermont has become a leader in preventing the abuse of our children and vulnerable adults.

April is recognized as National Child Abuse Prevention Month so I thought I would provide this simple shout out to the past and present members of the Diocesan Review Board. Thank you all for your dedicated support and guidance over these many years.

Additionally, I want to take this opportunity to offer a reminder of some of the basic tenets of ensuring a safe environment for those we minister to, young and old alike. The following summary comes from our Virtus and Circle of Grace training programs:

Collectively, preventing abuse requires that varying strategies all work together:

  • Train clergy, staff, parents, and volunteers to recognize the warning signs of child abuse and grooming behavior.
  • Control access to children by utilizing background checks and supervision of all those who work with children.
  • Control physical access to children including locking buildings, locking rooms not in use, and supervising spaces when in use.
  • Encourage clergy, staff, parents, and volunteers to report concerns to law enforcement and program leadership.
  • Educate children concerning boundaries and their own sacred dignity.

The Diocese of Burlington remains committed to working with all of our parishioners to ensure the safety of those entrusted to our care. While we cannot undo the failures of the past, we can take steps to prevent those failures from happening again.

If you have any questions regarding our efforts to ensure safe environments, please refer to our website Protecting Our Children – Ministries & Programs – Vermont Catholic or contact John Pfeifer in the Office of Safe Environment Programs at 802-658-6110.

In Christ the Good Shepherd,

Monsignor John J. McDermott

Diocesan Administrator