Diocese of Scranton Adopts New Policy on Sexual Abuse of Minors in the Church

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

The Diocese of Scranton recently approved a new Policy for Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors. According to the policy, the diocese is committed unequivocally to “authentically responding to and caring for victims and their families; reporting to and cooperating with civil authorities; responding swiftly, directly and deliberately when a cleric is accused of sexual abuse of a minor; creating safe environments for our children; and establishing appropriate and genuine formation of its seminarians.”A copy of the policy is to be given to all members of clergy, employees and volunteers of the church, as well as state legislators, the district attorney, and the children and youth director who serve in the area of the diocese. That is because most church personnel, including volunteers, are considered mandatory reporters by both Pennsylvania law and diocesan policy. Pennsylvania mandates that those who come in contact with children in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of a profession, and have reasonable suspicions that a child has been abused, are required immediately to make a report or notify the individual in charge. Failure to respond properly is a crime. To respond properly, the person in charge or designee must make an immediate oral report to ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. A written report within 48 hours on a form prescribed by the PA Department of Public Welfare to the local county children and youth social service agency also must be filed (cf, 49 PA Code § 42.42). The new policy in the Diocese of Scranton comes after years of study. The diocese first instituted a policy concerning clerics accused of sexual abuse of children in 1993. Many of its provisions later were contained in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. The Diocese of Scranton later revised its policy in 2003. After Bishop Joseph C. Bambera was ordained in 2010, the diocese revisited the crisis of sexual abuse of minors within the church. On April 15, 2013, the Diocese of Scranton approved the Policy for Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors. By adopting this revised policy, the diocese purported to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and true accountability within the church.“While we must learn from the mistakes of the past, it is my hope and prayer that our pledge to protect our children and to clearly and effectively, responsibly and honestly respond to victims and their families, whom we have been called to serve, will allow us to move forward with renewed resolve,” Bishop Bambera said. The clear import of the new policy is that child abuse by priests will not be tolerated. Sexual abuse, in all forms, inflicts real pain in the lives of victims and their families. Institutions that we trust to protect our most vulnerable must uphold any measures, civil or canonical, to ensure the well-being of our children.