Jan Slattery has been director of the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth since its inception in 2003. The office is responsible for training clergy, staff members and volunteers on how to prevent sexual abuse of children; teaching children how to protect themselves; receiving and reviewing complaints of sexual abuse against clergy as well lay staff members and volunteers; assisting victims of sexual abuse and supervising priests who have been removed from ministry after a credible accusation of sexual abuse.
She spoke with Catholic New World staff writer Michelle Martin on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, originally approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their June 2002 meeting in Dallas.
Catholic New World: What do you think is the biggest change in the last 10 years? How have we changed as a church?
Jan Slattery: I think there are two sides to that. This is true in our society: We have managed to do something that no other institution has managed to do, in that we have institutionalized commitment to children. We’ve done that through background checks, we’ve done it through the trainings and codes of conduct.
I think the other thing we have done extremely well is to work with parents in particular to let them know we are partners with them in protecting their children, whether it’s their presence in a parish or in a school, and I think they know now that Catholic schools are probably the safest place for their children.
The other piece to this — and I think it’s coming to light with some other things in the media now — is the media has focused on the clerical sexual abuse. This is a societal problem, and we see it now. We see it in the (Jerry) Sandusky case, we see it in other situations in the news. It’s almost weekly now that we see a coach removed or we see a father who has abused an infant, these types of things.
We really are seen now as a resource for other institutions for how to respond to some of this. We’ve worked with other not-forprofits; we’ve worked with other educational venues to kind of give information on how we did what we did, why we did what we did.
CNW: What are some of the main areas of emphasis now?
Slattery: Safe environment training for children has really become an important piece. In our schools we’ve done it well. We’ve tried to do it in our parishes. We do it somewhat well in our parishes, not all parishes, for a whole host of reasons.
It could be language or programs in religious education, how they do religious education — it could just be sacramental prep — in some of those areas, we have not done what I would hope we could do in terms of safe environment training for those children. On the other hand, particularly in the suburbs, a number of (public) schools do it, so it’s augmented there.
CNW: How many people have we trained?
Slattery: We’ve done background checks on 36,000-plus employees, almost 79,000 volunteers, so that comes close to 115,000 people who have been background checked. We have trained in the Virtus adult program over 140,000 adults. We have trained over 200,000 children in safe environment training. We have trained almost 22,000 clergy and school personnel in mandated-reporter training (for people in positions who are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse).
That’s ongoing. We are continuing all of those programs. We continue to train almost 10,000 adults a year in Virtus. Next year, or I should say this fall, we are starting a new training for clergy and professional staff. It will be a boundary training program called “Critical Conversations.” It will have a different format, more of an adult-learning model.
CNW: What’s the point of Virtus?
Slattery: It’s a prevention program. What we’re doing is educating adults to recognize the signs of child abuse and how to prevent it before it ever happens. That’s the main focus.
The safe environment training for children is somewhat similar in that we’re trying to provide them with skills and tools for them to respond if something tells them that something isn’t right. How do I respond? How do I react? Who do I tell?
The main focus we’re finding right now in schools relative to safe environment training is in technology. There are big problems with texting, bullying on the Internet, those types of things. We are aggressively addressing that now, and there are a couple of very fine programs which have been introduced in the schools in order to do that.
I think parents need that as well, because I think our kids are way beyond us on some of that and our not being up-to-date is probably contributing to what’s happening because we’re not being aggressively protective or alert.
CNW: How soon do you start talking about technology with kids?
Slattery: We’re really encouraging the technology piece now beginning at a very early age. Club Penguin begins at a very early age to educate children in a very sophisticated way about how to move forward using that technology. You buy clothes for your penguin, you make friends with your penguin and you’re basically just taking baby steps as to what you will do when you enter the social media when you are in fifth grade or sixth grade or wherever you happen to be. We’re starting in kindergarten or first grade now with some of the training for that reason.
It’s really incumbent on us to do more parent education. Our resources limit some of that, but we’re really encouraging our schools to do more of that. We identify speakers, we identify programs, things that they could do to educate parents. We’re working at it.
CNW: Is this what you thought the office would be doing when it was first formed?
Slattery: When this happened 10 years ago, no one really understood what it meant. We didn’t see the ripple effects to this. It’s easy to say you need to background check employees and clergy. It’s easy to say you need to train employees and volunteers and parents. It’s easy to say you need to educate children. But the infrastructure underneath that is significant, and the cost is significant, and the resources are significant.
We had no clue then what that really could become. Fortunately here we’ve been supported in all of that, so we’ve been able to develop it in a way that many, many dioceses have not. They have rudimentary programming, but it’s not to the same degree that we do it here.
CNW: Where do we go from here?
Slattery: We can’t become complacent. We have to do what we say we’re doing. We have to educate. We have to do the right things. One of the things I hope this office can do is help restore credibility to the church. The elephant is still in the room. That was said at the meeting of the bishops last week in Atlanta.
One of the bishops stood up and said, “The elephant is still in the room, and it’s not disappearing. How do we work with that?” Well, we work with that every day, and we face the elephant straight on.
We do on-site audits now. In the last three years, we have visited every parish and every school — not all high schools, because some are religious congregationowned. But we have audited all elementary schools for compliance. There are a lot of advantages to that. They know who we are, we’re not there to “get them,” we’re there to assist them to accomplish the compliance.
I think that’s made a big difference. It makes a difference for turnover in leadership. We have to help educate them. There is, I think, a lack of resources in some of our parishes and some of our schools, so we work with them on how they can do this.