Archdiocese passes sex abuse audit for 2011-12

    Independent auditors have found the Archdiocese of New Orleans to be in full compliance with the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for the period 2011-12, Sister of Mount Carmel Mary Ellen Wheelahan, safe environment coordinator for the archdiocese, said Feb. 5.
    Archbishop Aymond has signed off on the audit report, which was submitted by Rochester, N.Y.-based Stonebridge Business Partners. Stonebridge conducted a three-day, on-site audit last October of archdiocesan policies and procedures to protect minors.
    “It’s exciting because it shows that the clergy and lay people have worked hard, and all that hard work pays off,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “It shows that we as the Archdiocese of New Orleans are truly committed to protecting our children and that children are first and foremost in our lives.”
    Every diocese in the U.S. submits yearly information on how many children, youth and adult employees and volunteers have been offered safe environment training. Every three years, a diocese undergoes an on-site audit, during which the auditors interview key archdiocesan personnel about their compliance with the charter.
    In the wake of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the charter in 2002. It includes guidelines for prevention of future abuse, accountability, reconciliation and healing.
    Every diocese pledges to create a safe environment for children and young people, offer healing and reconciliation to victims and survivors, respond promptly to allegations of abuse, cooperate with civil authorities and take action against offenders.
Thousands trained
    During 2011-12, Sister Mary Ellen said 47,593 children and youth, and 12,193 adult employees and volunteers received safe environment training. There also were 12,128 adult employees and volunteers who underwent background checks.
    Sister Mary Ellen said the auditors expressed appreciation for the archdiocese’s openness and honesty and a good working relationship among various offices.
    “When they said that, we said, ‘Why shouldn’t everyone be this way? Isn’t this the way it’s supposed to be?’” Sister Mary Ellen said.
    The bottom line is that the safe environment program is working, she said.
    “We have so many people who have been trained that there is much more awareness of this issue,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “There was a little boy who went to his principal and told him he was being abused (at home). After it was over, the principal asked him, ‘Why did you come tell me?’ And he said, ‘Isn’t that what you told us to do in our training?’ The children know how to speak out now.”
Greater awareness
    Sister Mary Ellen also senses a shift among adults from skepticism over having to do the training to an understanding of why the training is so important.
    “People are more receptive to it at this point,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “We even have adults coming to us after listening to the talks we give at the training sessions, and they talk about someone in their lives they feel is being abused. Or they may have been abused as young people in their own families,  and they’re able to make that connection.”
    The archdiocese also was praised for its mandated reporter training materials; a Mardi Gras safety sheet for parents, teens, and tweens; and strong connections with Crimestoppers, the Audrey Hepburn Care Center at Children’s Hospital and local law enforcement.
    The archdiocese is working on providing safe environment information in Spanish and Vietnamese on its website; improving its sharing of information among offices; establishing a formal orientation process for its Review Board members; and working with clergy from religious orders to obtain information about their compliance with the charter.
State law toughened
    Sister Mary Ellen said the state of Louisiana has broadened the list of mandatory reporters. For example, previously, a person considered a mandatory reporter would have to file a report only if he or she became aware of an abuse allegation while acting in a professional capacity.
    “Now it’s 24 hours a day,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “Also, there are now clearer delineations of when to call the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services and when to call the local police.”
    Sister Mary Ellen said the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has a centralized, toll-free number to call if anyone suspects a minor is being abused:  855-4LA-KIDS (855-452-5437).
    Also, anyone suspecting abuse of a minor by a Catholic priest, deacon or religious can call the archdiocesan hotline, 522-5019. Sister of Mount Carmel Carmelita Centanni is the archdiocesan victims’ assistance coordinator.
    Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at

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