by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — An audit is a little like a visit from your mother-inlaw. You’re nervous, even if you’re wellprepared.
That’s the way Rebecca Sachen, principal of Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish in Wea, felt about her school’s on-site audit on Aug. 5 for compliance with the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
“It was a nervous thing,” said Sachen “You want to make sure you’re doing your best to protect the kids. Honestly, I thought we were very prepared. Our two Virtus [program] coordinators did an exceptional job.”
Queen of the Holy Rosary did, in fact, “test” well. When it was over, the auditor only offered minor suggestions, such as making sure they kept updated versions of forms and paperwork on hand.
The same was true for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas as a whole. This is the fifth consecutive year that the archdiocese has been found to be in compliance with the charter.
The charter, approved by the U.S. bishops in 2002, was established as an instrument to help prevent the sexual abuse of minors by anyone serving in church ministry or employment, or as a volunteer.
“The charter requires the church and the archdiocese to be as open as possible about instances of sexual abuse of minors, with respect always for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved,” explained Father John Riley, archdiocesan chancellor and safe environment coordinator.
This year, however, there was something new. It was the first time that auditors have conducted on-site parish and school visits.
“The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ [safe environment] audits are done annually, but on a three-year cycle because there are so many dioceses,” said Rita Herken, archdiocesan Virtus coordinator. “Typically, one year you have an on-site audit, and then the next two years will probably be data collection audits.”
From Aug. 3 to 7, a team of independent auditors, led by a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, conducted on-site reviews of records and interviewed pastors and staff at 21 parishes and schools in urban, suburban and rural communities.
The auditors reviewed documents and procedures concerning:
• How policies and procedures relating to the protection of children were carried out
• If the pastor, principal and other staff knew when and how to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor
• When safe environment training is provided and documented
• If the pastor ensured that background evaluations were conducted on all parish personnel
• If the principal ensured that background evaluations were conducted on all school personnel. The audits at each school and parish followed nearly the same procedure.
For example, at Our Lady of Unity Parish and School in Kansas City, Kan., the audit team consisted of the USCCB auditor, the pastor, the school principal, the director of religious education, and an archdiocesan representative.
“[The USCCB auditor] came in and asked us about hiring practices, recruiting volunteers, and about our training,” said Father Michael Hermes, the pastor at the time. “The volunteers include catechists, CYO coaches — anyone who has an official function at the parish working with kids. She asked how we recruit and train people, and how we document it.”
The USCCB auditor also did random spot checks of files to ensure that individuals had attended Virtus [safe environment] training, underwent a background check, and signed an acknowledgement that they received and read archdiocesan policies. These policies concern child protection, the code of ethical standards, and harassment.
“She had a couple of minor suggestions for us, but the major items were good, and she complimented us,” said Father Hermes. “We want to do the right thing, so we were happy to cooperate.”
Sacred Heart Parish and School in Emporia had much the same experience, said Marilyn Krueger, safe environment coordinator.
“[She asked us] about our records — where we keep them and who is responsible for them,” said Krueger. “She wanted to know if all the children had taken the [Teaching Touching Safety], when it was done, if all the children had taken it, and if anyone had opted out.”
In addition to the annual USCCB audits, the archdiocese conducts its own audits on an ongoing basis. This is done by Herken and Mike Horn, the archdiocesan auditor for financial internal controls.
“[Mike Horn’s] internal audits at parishes and schools include a portion on the Virtus program, so we’re not just relying on the USCCB audits,” said Herken. “I also go out and do parish audits when they request one.”