Catholic New World: Newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago

Protecting children and youth

  • Office for the Protection of Children and Youth

    The Office for the Protection of Children and Youth opened in 2003, following the passage of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its original mission was to train adults on how to protect children from sexual abuse and to monitor background checks of clergy, lay personnel and volunteers who have contact with children.

    In 2006, the office was reorganized to include the Offices of Assistance Ministry and Child Abuse Investigations and Review. The Office of Safe Environment was created in 2007. The newly configured office has resulted in the creation of the Children Matter Network and new educational programs for children and adults.

    Director: Jan Slattery, (312) 751-5319

  • Office of Assistance Ministry

    The Office of Assistance Ministry has one mission: to make sure victims and survivors of sexual abuse by church personnel are received by the church with sensitivity, assisted with compassion and accompanied in their healing journey by caring guidance and support.

    Cardinal Joseph Bernardin mandated the establishment of the Office of Victim Assistance Ministry in 1992, based on recommendations from his Commission on Clerical Misconduct. Since then, it has provided services to victims/survivors and their families. Services include: Therapeutic and spiritual counseling; accompanying victims/survivors when they come to report incidences of sexual abuse by church personnel; arranging meetings with Cardinal George at the appropriate time; providing financial support for clinical services during the archdiocesan process and providing consultation and clinical resources for parish communities affected by abuse.

    Director: Matt Hunnicutt (312) 751-8267

    Assistant Director: Mayra Flores (312) 751-8256

    Hotline: (866) 517-4528

  • Safe Environment Office

    The Safe Environment Office was created in January 2007 to make sure the archdiocese and its parishes and schools are in compliance with several sections of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. In particular, the office makes sure that the archdiocese has clear and well-publicized standards of behavior and boundaries, maintains safe environment programs and checks the backgrounds of all clergy, staff and volunteers who have contact with children.

    To fulfill its mission, the office: monitors compliance with these provisions; offers Virtus/Protecting God’s Children Training for facilitators and for adults; makes sure that safe environment training programs are in place for children and young people; develops new training curriculums, such as Internet safety programs and training for staff who are mandated to report suspected child abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services; monitors the background check and fingerprint check systems; works on the Children Matter Network Web site and produces the On-Going for Kids newsletter.

    Since 2003, more than 62,000 lay employees, volunteers and clergy have attended Virtus/Protecting God’s Children training and had their background checks processed. More than 1,500 training sessions have been offered by 170 facilitators. As of July 1, 2007, all new school personnel also must have an FBI fingerprint check. All schools have safe environment programs for children and young people.

    Director: Womazetta Jones (312) 751-5238

  • Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review

    The Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review receives and reviews allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy, employees or volunteers of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The office, directed by Leah McCluskey, a licensed social worker, encourages people to report allegations of sexual misconduct no matter how long ago the incidents occurred, and stresses that all individuals have the right to report such incidents to the State’s Attorney and the Department of Children and Family Services.

    Director: Leah McCluskey, (312) 751-5205

    Assistant Director: Patty Zacharias, (312) 867-8793

    Hotline: (800) 994-6200

Jimmy Lago

I am impressed with the work of the many laypersons, religious and clergy who are committed to the safety and protection of children: who investigate allegations, screen, hire and train employees and volunteers, resolve claims, relate to victims, manage those removed from ministry and all the tasks that address the commitment Cardinal George made in 2003 to keep our children safe from abuse. This insert underscores the passion, professionalism, motivation, and talent of those who are involved in this work.

Much research and analysis has been done to understand why the sexual abuse of children by clergy happened, especially the many cases going back 20, 30, and 40 years that represent the bulk of the cases being dealt with now. Regardless of the causes, however, this generation of church leadership has the serious responsibility and challenge of bringing justice, compassion, and hopefully healing to those abused years ago. We are accountable for the actions of those priests in the Archdiocese who betrayed their mission, seriously harmed children as well as their families and brought shame to this local church.

As a former child abuse investigator and administrator, as Chancellor and the person appointed by Cardinal George to make sure our policies and actions support our pledge of safety for children, I am doing my best, along with these many others, to make sure that the sexual abuse of children, by clergy (or anyone else), does not happen again in our schools, parishes or any church institution of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Jan Slattery
Director of the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth

The Office for Protection of Children and Youth has authorized background checks on and trained more than 62,000 adults—clergy, lay employees and volunteers—to help prevent sexual abuse of children since its inception in 2003, and, starting in 2005 more than 200,000 children in Catholic schools and religious education programs have been trained to protect themselves from sexual predators.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has long been a leader in offering assistance to those who have suffered sexual abuse by a clergy member or church employee, with its Victim’s Assistance Ministry formed in 1992. Now known as the Office of Assistance Ministry, it works under the umbrella of the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, and it has provided services to more than 400 people, including more than $2 million for therapeutic and spiritual counseling.

While the Archdiocese of Chicago has made significant progress in preventing clerical sexual abuse of children and in offering assistance to victims and their families, there is still work to be done.

Some people have been uncomfortable with the idea of undergoing a background check—especially longtime volunteers who have never had a complaint lodged against them. What we have said is “It’s not about you. It’s about protecting children.”

That’s what it is about: what we as a church can do to help children in society, and I’m convinced the societal impact will be with us for years. This is a societal crisis for children. It’s not just our church.

The ripples really are far greater than people realize. There are thousands of people who have been trained to look for situations that could present a risk that a child could be abused and to look for signs that abuse has occurred. We get calls in our office now every day, from a teacher or a priest or a parent that needs to know, “What do I do? I think there’s a child I know who has been abused.” Or, “There’s abuse in my family.” We provide information about civil resources (The Department of Children and Family Services) and attempt to assist in other ways as well. This has become a public issue that is now safe to talk about—not only as an adult, but as a child. A child can now express his or herself. If you are threatened, you have a right to talk about it.

I come to this work as a mother of six children and a foster parent for 15 years. I believe that in our families, oftentimes in our professional lives, in our church and in society, we can have a positive impact on the quality of life children experience.