I watch and I wonder…
September 17, 2018
Ending our silent complicity
September 22, 2018

We all have a responsibility to protect God’s children

Q: Archbishop J, what has the Church done to protect our children?

The Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC), on April 23, 2007, issued a policy to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and minors. This was after the original document, written by the bishops, was submitted to Rome, and approved by the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2006.

Once it was approved it was implemented in most of the dioceses of the AEC region. In Port of Spain, Archbishop Edward J Gilbert brought all the priests together to review the policy. They received guidance on how it worked, what their responsibilities were, and how the Archdiocese would handle reports of sexual abuse.

Virtus Programme

Once the policy was in place, the AEC bishops agreed to implement the VIRTUS programme Protecting Gods Children® for Adults in our dioceses. All ministers who have contact with children are required to complete this training.

On the VIRTUS website the programme is described as follows: “Protecting Gods Children® for Adults is training conducted by VIRTUS® certified facilitators on the prevention of child sexual abuse. The training makes participants aware of the signs of child sexual abuse, the methods and means by which offenders commit abuse, and five easy steps one can use to prevent child sexual abuse. Two videos are the centrepiece of the training: A Time to Protect Gods Children and A Plan to Protect Gods Children. The facilitators incorporate policies and procedures defining child sexual abuse, addressing the reporting of child sexual abuse, the screening and selection of employees and volunteers, and victim advocacy.”

Episcopal Delegate for the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission Tricia Syms is the coordinator of the VIRTUS programme. Later this week she will attend a VIRTUS Coordinators Convention for an annual update.

Everyone who interacts with children and teens in the Church must participate in VIRTUS and keep current with the regular online updates.  The programme does not only share information, but also serves to create a framework for a healthy environment so all God’s children can be protected.

Upon her return from the conference, Tricia will conduct an audit in the Archdiocese to ensure all people currently in ministry with children have completed the programme and are keeping up to date with the follow-up online sessions.

All of us are responsible

The Archdiocese is committed to ensuring its policies and procedures foster a safe environment to protect God’s children and young adults. Providing greater access to information, training and ensuring you know where to find answers to your questions is an important part of the process.

In the coming weeks, the Archdiocese will, therefore, review and strengthen its policies and structures that impact children and youth ministry. We need to undertake this at every level of Church—groups, parishes, lay and religious communities and the Archdiocese.

Any specific recommendations and suggestions that will help create a safer environment for our children in the Church in T&T are welcome. Kindly email your suggestions to d.bainey@abpos.org

Archdiocesan Policy

  1. Once a written allegation of sexual abuse is made concerning priests/deacons the Regional Vicar must be notified immediately.
  2. If the Regional Vicar determines there could be some validity to the allegation, he then reports it immediately to the Archbishop who will act on it. The Regional Vicar must advise the family or guardian of the victim that they are free to make a report to the relevant police station. If the victim is a minor they are required by law to report it.
  3. When a written allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor, or of any person by a priest/deacon is presented to the Archdiocese, it shall be taken seriously and referred immediately to the team of Archdiocesan delegates.
  4. Two delegates of the Archbishop shall interview the person(s) making the allegations. The delegates shall prepare a report on the interview(s).
  5. The priest/deacon is to be informed immediately that an allegation has been made to the Archdiocese. He should be advised of his right to obtain canonical and civil counsel.
  6. The delegates shall also interview the priest/deacon regarding the allegation in the presence of Counsel, unless the priest/deacon waives his right to counsel in writing. He has a right to make his own statement and shall be given access to the report of the delegates’ interview with the accuser and any witnesses.
  7. The delegates of the Archbishop shall refer their reports and their opinion to the Review Board. The Review Board shall make a recommendation to the Archbishop, whether or not there is sufficient evidence to proceed in the case.
  8. If the Review Board states that there is enough evidence to indicate an offence has been committed and the Archbishop accepts the recommendation, the Diocesan Bishop no longer has jurisdiction in the case. He is obliged to refer the case to Rome.

Complaints against priests/deacons of the Archdiocese are processed by the Archdiocese. Complaints against priests/deacons belonging to a monastery or clerical religious community, who have an Archdiocesan appointment, are ordinarily processed collaboratively by the monastery or the clerical religious community and the Archdiocese.

As noted in the covering memorandum, unless the canonical superior of the monastery or clerical religious community requests the assistance of the Archdiocese in writing, monasteries or clerical religious communities are expected to process complaints involving their own personnel who do not have an Archdiocesan Appointment.

If the complaint about a priest/deacon from a monastery or clerical religious community who has an Archdiocesan Appointment is made not to the Archdiocese but to the abbot or religious superior, the Archbishop shall be informed.

Key message: All of us are responsible for protecting God’s children and youth.

Action Step: Reflect on your group, parish, lay or religious community and the Archdiocese and individually or together with others make concrete suggestions for ways we can create a safer environment for protecting all God’s children and youth.

Scripture: Ezekiel 33:7–9