As Christians, we know that God’s image in each person, and God’s call to holiness form the basis for human dignity. Our duty is to protect this human dignity, especially in the most vulnerable among us, our children. It is essential that they find a safe environment in our homes, in our schools, in our worship communities, and in the general community. Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a criminal act, which causes enormous pain, anger, and confusion. In order to protect the children and young people of the Diocese of Savannah from such abuse on the part of personnel acting in the name of the Diocese, this policy addresses the need for prevention, reporting and investigation of allegations of sexual abuse of minors. It endeavors to provide a means of outreach to those who have been abused and the communities who are harmed by the abuse.
Savannah Diocesan efforts for prevention will focus on screening and education.
- All Diocesan clergy, religious, Seminarians, lay employees, and regular volunteers who have contact with minors must be screened according to diocesan guidelines.
- All such personnel will participate in education through the diocesan sexual abuse awareness and prevention training program.
- Education of minors and adults will be offered throughout the Diocese.
Anyone sexually abused as a minor or who knows about a case of sexual abuse of a minor should immediately report it to the civil authorities. When such sexual abuse has been committed by a cleric, religious, seminarian, diocesan or parish employee or a diocesan or parish volunteer it also should be reported to the Bishop of Savannah through the Victims Assistance Hotline at (888) 357-5330. Reporting can be made at any hour of the day. In the State of Georgia, persons who, in good faith, report incidents of suspected or known child abuse are exempted from civil or criminal liability. (Ga. Code 19-7-5)
The Diocese/parish will cooperate with investigations by appropriate civil authorities. In addition, all cases of sexual abuse of a minor committed by Diocesan/parish personnel will be investigated by the Diocese in order to provide the Bishop with the necessary information to determine the appropriate course of action. Every effort will be made to maintain confidentiality so as to protect the rights of all parties concerned.
The Diocesan response to both victim and alleged offender will be to pursue justice with tenacity while also pursuing mercy with love and compassion.
- Victims: The healing of victims, their families, and their community from the effects of sexual abuse by church personnel begins when the allegations of such abuse are received. Victims of sexual abuse experience a profound sense of loss and betrayal by someone from whom they had the right to expect protection and guidance. This is even more true when the offender represents spiritual authority and one’s connection with God. As a result, victims frequently have difficulty trusting others, fearful that they will be blamed for the abusive acts. When victims decide to disclose the abuse they can be assured of receiving a welcoming reception that is compassionate and non-judgmental. To accomplish this outreach, they will be contacted by the Victim Assistance Coordinator.
- Alleged Offenders: An accusation of sexual misconduct is personally devastating. Should an allegation of sexual abuse be made, compassion will be exercised toward the accused and every effort will be made to protect his/her civil and canonical rights; understanding there is a presumption of innocence under both civil and canon law.
When sexual abuse by a priest or a deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate investigation in accord with canon law, the offender will be removed from ministry using appropriate processes. For non-clerical personnel, when sexual abuse is admitted or established after an appropriate investigation in accord with civil or canon law, the offender will be removed from any position within the Diocese.
The Bishop is assisted throughout this process by the Advisory Board for the Protection of Children, which is composed predominantly of lay professionals not employed by the Diocese who have been appointed by the Bishop in a consultative and advisory capacity. This Board will regularly review diocesan policy and procedures, which deal with the sexual abuse of minors.
- Diocesan Personnel
- In this policy, diocesan personnel are defined as all clergy, religious, seminarians, diocesan and parish lay employees, and certain diocesan and parish volunteers.
- Any person who is under eighteen years of age.
- Regular Volunteers who have contact with minors
- For the purpose of this policy such persons are defined as screened volunteers such as: catechist, coach, altar server coordinator, youth choir director, youth leader, school of religion teacher, or overnight chaperones.
- Sexual Abuse
- Sexual abuse of a minor includes sexual molestation or sexual exploitation of a minor and other behavior by which an adult uses a minor as an object of sexual gratification. A canonical offense against the sixth commandment does not need to be a complete act of intercourse. To be objectively grave the act does not need to involve force, physical or a discernible harmful outcome. The norm to be considered in assessing an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is whether conduct or interaction with a minor qualifies as an external, objectively grave violation of the sixth commandment. (Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, USCCB.) This definition does not attempt to limit the definition of sexual abuse of a minor found in the Georgia Code and any more inclusive definitions of sexual abuse of a minor found in the Georgia Code are also to be included in this definition.
Heavenly Father, grant to us your children of all ages the joy of seeing you in each other. May the adults among us always mirror your protection for our children and young people. And may we all praise you with your Son our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. 5-23-03