by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Jenifer Valenti was hired by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in April 2019, she was tasked with revising the archdiocesan Child Abuse Prevention Policy.
“Most of these policies, which had served the diocese well, had not been revised in some time,” said Valenti, director of the office for protection and care, “so we really started working on that process then.”
After four years of hard work and careful consideration, the archdiocese is promulgating its Abuse Prevention Policy, which will replace the Child Protection Policy.
“We believe the whole church and everybody that’s involved in the care or mentoring of our vulnerable people has an obligation to safeguard their protection,” said Valenti.
“We hope that this newly revised policy helps people to have some pretty clear behavioral standards,” she continued, “as well as the overarching values and principles that are a part of this ministry to help prevent abuse.”
The entire office for protection and care team was involved in revising the policy, as well as the archdiocese’s Independent Review Board; canon lawyers; Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann; Father Brian Schieber, vicar for clergy; Father John Riley, vicar general and chancellor; and Chris Arth, general counsel for the archdiocese.
“It also went out at some point to all of our ministry leaders here at the chancery for their input,” said Valenti.
The updated policy provides clear instructions and guidelines for understanding and recognizing sexual abuse and describes the many ways the archdiocese is working to prevent it.
It covers areas like appropriate versus inappropriate behavior with minors, and what to do when someone has a concern about a situation where abuse is potentially occurring.
“[A] big change is the renewal timeline for background checks,” said Sandy Vielhauer, protection compliance administrator for the office for protection and care.
The archdiocese will now require background screenings every five years for all archdiocesan clerics, employees and volunteers.
Before, periodic screenings were only conducted on Catholic school employees, who will continue to undergo screenings every three years.
The office for protection and care will cycle the background checks, and clerics, employees and volunteers will receive an email notification when their screenings are occurring.
Vielhauer emphasized that no action is required from these groups, other than confirming personal information like email addresses are up to date on Virtus (virtusonline.org).
Safe environment requirements will now also apply to archdiocesan ministries that serve vulnerable adults, like home health and residential living communities, where there could potentially be an abuse of authority.
“In all of our ministries that serve vulnerable populations or in which there is an unequal distribution of power, those relationships are covered under our new policy,” said Valenti.
Valenti said much thought has gone into creating and implementing the updated policy.
“What I learned was that it was important for me in developing the policy to really understand the needs of the archdiocese,” she said. “That took some time.
“There were a number of consultations with leadership and varying constituencies that are impacted by the policy.”
Valenti hopes the updated policy will have a big impact on the archdiocese.
“Our goal in passing, highlighting and announcing this policy is that we continue to be vigilant as a community in making sure our employees and volunteers are properly screened and vetted,” she said.
“But also, that when they’re mentoring and caring for minors or vulnerable adults, their behavior is virtuous and appropriate,” she said. “So, we’re hoping that the policy continues to serve as a guide for how people should be working with children and vulnerable adults.”
Valenti also stressed how imperative abuse survivors have been in working with the archdiocese to enhance its prevention efforts.
“The other thing we have found in accompanying survivors is that they don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” she said. “So, they’re really interested in what our prevention efforts and standards are.
“We hope to always have best practices — to be at the forefront of those prevention efforts.
“And the more we grow this ministry by recruiting Virtus facilitators and having good relationships with our frontline workers — [like] our principals and safe environment coordinators in parishes and schools — that just creates a better safety net of protection for people that are vulnerable.”
To learn more, visit the website at: archkck.org/protection-and-care/office.
Prayer service for abuse victims to be held in Seneca
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Abbot James Albers, OSB, will celebrate a Prayer Service for Abuse Victims at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Seneca on June 19 at 7 p.m.
The service is one of the outcomes of applying the restorative principles used by the archdiocesan office for protection and care.
Amy Stork, victim care advocate, said these principles are simple in concept, but the actual work can be incredibly difficult and intense, especially for survivors.
“There is no predetermined outcome beyond what the survivor discovers as their needs, through the journey of processing the harms and participating in authentic dialogue,” said Stork.
“The Seneca prayer service was a result of these conversations,” she continued, “responding to the needs expressed by the survivors for church leadership to acknowledge the abuse that has occurred in their parish community and affirming the victims/survivors.”
A reception will immediately follow the service. Office for protection and care staff will be in attendance to provide assistance and resources to those who know someone who has been harmed or those seeking more information about their ministry.
Any victim/survivor who is interested in attending but feels hesitant is encouraged to reach out to Stork at (913) 298-9244 or by email at: email@example.com.