by Olivia Martin
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Anyone who knows Jenifer Valenti knows there are three words that describe her well: knowledgeable, transparent and vigilant.
And the fact that unites these attributes? Her Catholic faith.
Valenti is a prosecuting attorney by trade and has been the ombudsman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph since 2011. She has recently been selected to be the new director of the office of child and youth protection for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“Being Catholic is a part of who I am,” said Valenti. “I feel very strongly and passionately about how the church should be handling sexual abuse of a minor and how that crisis should be resolved.”
She is also wholly committed to bringing justice and support to all affected by abuse in the church, she said.
So, when the opportunity to take on the role of director of the office of child and youth protection in the archdiocese came up, Valenti wanted in.
“I felt like I might be a good fit as somebody who has gathered experience and expertise from working with victims, law enforcement and victim advocacy groups in the children’s divisions,” said Valenti.
And she couldn’t have been more correct.
“We were looking for a person of integrity . . . someone with knowledge and a background in what it requires for the church to really develop a safe environment and continue to make that environment safer,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. “Fortunately, Jenifer has that experience.”
And Archbishop Naumann has seen Valenti’s qualifications firsthand. He and Valenti worked together in 2015 during his time as the administrator of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
“I could see how conscientious she was about her work, how insightful she was, in the recommendations she brought to me when I was the administrator,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“She is a woman who is highly respected and trusted within the Kansas City community,” he added. “And perhaps most important, she has a great love for the church and really wants to make the church the safest place in the world for young people to be.”
Kathleen Chastain, victim services coordinator in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, has worked closely with Valenti for many years and believes her management of cases of abuse and victim support demonstrates those attributes.
“Jenifer has a great ability to balance fairness, justice and empathy for individuals,” she said. “There’s the prosecutor side that understands the law and justice and there’s the parent side of her that allows her to put the people at the center of all her activities, be it the perpetrator or the survivor, and their human needs.
“She is what I think of as the heart of the church,” she said.
Valenti is preceded in her role by Father John Riley, chancellor of the archdiocese, with whom she occasionally worked during her time in the Missouri diocese.
“From working with Jenifer, I have a great respect for her professionalism, confidentiality and thoroughness,” said Father Riley. “We both recognize the profound responsibility that we have to protect the legitimate rights and the reputations of both the accused and the victim in these difficult situations, while maintaining a high degree of confidentiality.”
Father Riley has worked as the director of the office of child and youth protection for 10 years and is gratified to be passing the torch on to someone as qualified and trustworthy as Valenti.
“[This] role . . . is an important role which takes uninterrupted time, attention and dedication to ensure we provide a safe environment for all our children and vulnerable adults, as well as to ensure excellent care for the survivors of abuse,” said Father Riley. “I, like many of our priests, serve in multiple capacities, and the demands of this office have grown in the 10 years since I assumed the responsibilities as director.”
The director’s responsibilities include: oversight of the safe environment program and staff (including the compliance administrator, report investigator and victim assistance coordinator); response to reports of abuse and care for victims; and assuring continued compliance with the USCCB “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
The director also coordinates the meetings of the Independent Review Board (IRB) and prepares case files for board review, although she will not be a member of the IRB.
“We were looking for the best-qualified person and I think [Valenti] is it,” said Archbishop Naumann. “I think to have a layperson and, frankly, a laywoman in charge of that office is very helpful.
“I am grateful to Father John Riley for the work that he’s done. We’ve asked him to wear so many hats. . . . I think he did an extraordinary job.”
Love of her Catholic faith and empathy for others are what, for Valenti, will make her work protecting and guiding the church possible.
“I believe very strongly that the church should be guided by the . . . Gospel in addressing sexual abuse involving children when it’s at the hands of a trusted agent of the church,” she said. “I think a lot of the tenets of our faith, including . . . reconciliation and the Resurrection, are applicable in looking at sexual abuse within the church.”
And Valenti is looking forward to stepping into her new role.
“My goal is to help continue to bring credibility and trust to the people in responding to this crisis,” said Valenti, “but also to bring a sense of security and safety to our vulnerable and the youth in the church.“I am really excited about that challenge.”