Cover-ups, transparency, and confidentiality

The Archdiocese of Denver’s new Clergy Misconduct Advisory Committee

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Father R. Michael Dollins is the Vicar for Clergy for the Archdiocese of Denver.

When a priest is absent from a few weekends at a parish, it is natural for the parishioners to wonder where he is.
“Is he OK?” “Did he do something wrong?” “Why aren’t they telling us anything?”

Those aren’t new questions when a situation like this happens, but recently I have noticed there has been a heightened call for greater transparency in the Church, especially as historical sins that have long been hidden in the shadows have recently been brought into the light. In almost every aspect of our lives, there is a tension between what is private and what is public. Where is the line between being a trusted person who must keep something confidential, and a person who is involved in a cover-up?

If we are honest, we know that full disclosure of information is not appropriate for every situation. Discretion and privacy are a prudent part of how we live our lives, relate to friends and family, and conduct business. There are personal situations that simply must be kept private, and when confidential information remains confidential, this is not a cover-up. A cover-up is when information that ought to be known publicly is kept secret.

So when it comes to how we handle purported misconduct of priests and deacons, seeking to achieve “Reliable Confidentiality” may be a better standard than transparency.

An organization that practices Reliable Confidentiality is able to strike a balance between an appropriate level of privacy for those involved in an issue, while at the same time, adequately reassuring those who are concerned about the same issue that a satisfactory response will occur. When this happens, those involved in an issue feel they were treated in an equitable manner and those who are concerned feel that they can trust the organization and its processes.

In the area of clergy misconduct, and responding to new standards driven by the Vatican, the Archdiocese of Denver has recently instituted the Clergy Misconduct Advisory Committee (CMAC). This is a group of professional Catholics, mostly lay, whom the archbishop consults on matters of priest or deacon misconduct. NOTE: This does not include sexual misconduct with minors, as a separate process exists for this more serious issue. The CMAC is composed of a few senior priests (not in archdiocesan central leadership), mental health professionals, law enforcement members (current and retired), and finance specialists. They are granted full transparency into issues of misconduct and then offer counsel directly to the archbishop. Cases may include financial transgressions, inappropriate relationships with adults, or struggles with addictions.

Depending on the gravity and nature of the issue, the CMAC will also help guide the Archdiocese on what information needs to be shared publicly, and what should remain confidential. That said, it should be kept in mind that difficult issues often proceed slowly through a review process and what may be perceived as improper secrecy is, in reality, appropriate confidentiality.

Hopefully the CMAC will give the faithful confidence that the Archdiocese of Denver has responded to the alleged misconduct with appropriate seriousness and reparative measures, while still being able to maintain the right balance of privacy for all involved. Hopefully the CMAC will give the faithful confidence that the archdiocese is practicing Reliable Confidentially.

COMING UP: What parents want most from their child’s school — and how Catholic schools fulfill it

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By Carol Nesbitt

What do parents of school aged kids want most of all from their child’s school?

Safety

Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

It’s probably first and foremost to know they’re safe — not only from physical harm, violence, and drugs, but also other negative influences kids have to navigate in today’s complicated and confusing world, including cultural pressures to do what ‘feels good’ instead of what is right, just and moral.

This past year, some news media outlets questioned the safety of students in Denver’s Catholic schools because of sex abuse from decades ago. The reality is that the Church and all of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic Schools have worked diligently to ensure the safety of all students. In fact, many parents say they specifically chose Catholic schools here because they feel their children are safer than the alternatives. But the term “safe” is much broader in today’s society.

“Their physical safety, as well as the safety of their souls, is something that is always on our minds as parents,” said Kelsey Lynch, a parent of two school-aged children. She and her husband, Michael, said that knowing their children were safe in school was one of the main reasons they chose St. Mary’s Catholic School in Greeley.

“St. Mary’s has proven over and over that our children’s safety is on the forefront of their minds,” she said. “They are taking every preventative step possible to keep our children safe from the evils that are so prevalent in our world today. With open communication, facing the hard topics instead of shying away from them, and vetting all people that our kids will come in contact with, we feel a Catholic school is the safest place for our kids to receive an education.”

The safety of their children’s souls is equally as important to mom Kelsie Raddatz and her husband, Justin, who have five children. Their two oldest attend St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Loveland.

“There is truly no greater lesson to learn than to know that you are so incredibly loved by God and that God is so good. These crucial lessons aren’t allowed to be spoken in public schools,” Kelsie said.

Faith

Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

That’s why the Raddatzes make the financial sacrifice to send their kids to St. John’s, with the strong belief that not only will their children be physically safe, but that they will fully understand that their purpose in life is to share Jesus’ love with others through everything they do; whether it be in the classroom or on the playground, speaking to others the way they would speak to Jesus.

“Every single moment is an opportunity to see Jesus present and to serve Him as well,” Kelsie continued. “What a blessed environment for our kids to learn and practice such crucial lessons!”

The Lynches say they can’t do it alone. For their children to become the saints they are called to be, the Lynches know that they need to work in partnership with their school community.

“Our kids’ teachers and classmates get more time with our kids during the week than we do, so it’s important that the people they are surrounded by are also helping them grow into the individuals God created them to be,” Kelsey said. “Our kids are learning what it is really like to have a strong faith family and the importance of a community that stands together in prayer and action to serve each other and the world around them, in both good and trying times.”

Kate McGreevy Crisham and her husband John echo the Lynch’s in their desire to have a strong faith foundation in their children’s education. That’s why they send their kids to St. Vincent de Paul in Denver.

“We are so fortunate in Denver to be able to choose Catholic schools because they are academically excellent AND thoroughly Catholic,” Kate said.

She and her husband wanted their faith to surround their children at home and at school. “We wanted God to be a part — actually the center — of the educational process of drawing out, igniting curiosity, working with challenging concepts and, as important, failing, struggling, and building resilience,” Kate shared. “Catholic schools value that process, encourage it, and love kids through it.”

Character

Photo by Brandon Young

She said she can see Jesus incarnate on a daily basis at St. Vincent de Paul.

“I see Jesus when I see an 8th grade boy stop to high five a group of kindergarteners. When I talk to the teachers of my kids, I see Jesus in their pure interest in what is best for my child — not what I want to hear — yet their words are delivered with professionalism and yes, love.

“From the maintenance staff to the principal, hearts are aligned in the work being done to educate the whole child.”

After exploring various options for preschool for their eldest child, Christy and Scott Kline toured Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, and although there was a free public school across the street, there was no question where they would send their kids. The decision was about so much more than simply educating their child.

“We have a ‘caught caring’ award (at the school) that is multi-faceted,” Christy said “Children are recognized for doing good — not academically — but in ways that benefit society and communities as a whole. Teachers and administration are ‘looking for the good’ in the school and finding it. When you look for something, it stands out.”

She feels that by looking for the best in people, you bring out the best. Kline also believes that strong parental involvement helps keep the school as safe as possible.

“The onus is on all of us to create an open, safe, transparent culture going forward, not just in Catholic organizations, but in all organizations and activities where children are involved,” Christy said.

Academics

Photo by Brandon Young

That same responsibility is on parents to choose schools that will reinforce the values they’re working to teach their children at home. David and Kathy Silverstein have had four children in Catholic schools in Denver over the past 20 years. Although there were many options for schools, including a charter school near their home, once they stepped foot inside St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Longmont, they knew it was the ‘only choice’ for their kids. As their children transitioned into high school, the Silversteins found that Holy Family High School was another perfect fit.

“In today’s world, finding a school that excels at education, sports and extra curriculars is challenging enough, but to find a school, particularly a high school, that prioritizes kindness, morality, personal responsibility, strength of character and just plain old being a good person — that is the uniqueness of Holy Family High School,” said Kathy. “An atmosphere of respect lives within the halls, between teachers, between students. It’s expected.”

For these families and countless others, they have experienced that it is the overall commitment by Catholic schools to keep students safe, to help them truly know they are loved by God, to incorporate faith into every subject area, and to set high expectations for students which reinforces parents’ decision to choose Catholic schools for their kids.

“My greatest desire for my children is for them to know how deeply they are loved by Jesus (and us, too!) and that their whole purpose in this life is to share Jesus’ love with others through every single thing they do,” Kelsie Raddatz said. “The classrooms are such a beautiful example of Jesus’ presence!”