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Countdown to accountability

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Can you hear it? Do you feel it? The rumbling in the distance like clouds brewing over the Everglades? It’s moving closer until you feel it in your bones and your heartbeat quickens. Remember that scene in Jurassic Park when the coffee cup begins to ripple? The precursor of inevitable force.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but we have just been scheduled for the yearly audit of the Safe Environment Department. As per the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, all 194 U.S. dioceses are subject to an annual audit. Some years it is a paper audit, but every three years it is an on-site audit, meaning the auditors not only come in person to the Pastoral Center, but also to parishes and schools.

Photographer:

Obviously, logistics would prevent them from visiting every location in the Archdiocese of Miami, but we never know how many or which sites they will choose. The element of the unknown is rather the point, as clearly the message is, all sites should have accurate, up-to-date records and be well prepared. The archdiocese is now scheduled for an on-site audit the second week of October. Was that the ground shaking? Another Florida sinkhole?

Or just a sinking feeling? True, in my early years as Safe Environment coordinator, I feared the audit and thought it was such a waste of time as it took so many hours and put so much emphasis on numbers rather than programs. I felt it took me away from the heart of the ministry, which is to provide quality programs to address awareness and prevention of child sex abuse. I was short-sighted, naïve, a rookie, a newbie! I have since managed to see beyond the doors of my 12’ by 14’ office and, I hasten to say, I get it now.

The truth is the audit is a far-reaching process involving everyone connected in any way to the Safe Environment Department. The archdiocese has participated and passed the audit each of the 13 years since the Charter’s implementation. Now I anticipate the auditors’ arrival with a sense of excitement as it truly is an opportunity for us to share the dedication and hard work that go into this mission. I look forward to the day they arrive and, like a ritual, set up their base of operations in a conference room at the Pastoral Center.

They bring their laptops and saddle-bag briefcases, secure their wireless password-protected access, and begin scheduling their days to conduct one-on-one interviews. They always separate us for these interviews. Have you seen Law and Order? I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought their own bright lights and rubber hoses. Just kidding, they don’t. But they are not really known for their sense of humor.

Nor should they. This is serious business. They go about their interviews with myself, the women in the fingerprint office, the Victim’s Assistance Coordinator, the Safe Environment Director (Mary Ross Agosta), and that’s just the beginning. They also interview the senior director of Human Resources, the superintendent of schools, the director of the Office of Catechesis, the vocations director, the seminary rector, the Vicar General, the Chief Operations Officer, the members of the Review Board and last, but not least, the archbishop. In fact, they interview the archbishop twice: at entry and exit.

That’s a lot of interviews. And these aren’t just meet and greets. We all come prepared with files and spreadsheets and verifications and details of program implementations, reports, forms and evaluations. We give them numbers for those who have been Virtus trained, those who are compliant with bulletins, provide them with the Pledge to Promote Safe Environment and give them the totals for fingerprinting.

We share with them how we go above and beyond the Charter by paying for the training and fingerprinting, as we feel it is the best way to assure complete compliance. (Most dioceses require it but also charge the participant.) I brag about the dedication of our 25 volunteer Virtus facilitators and the 235 sessions they gave last year. I tell them about the workshops and trainings given to assign and train local coordinators for parishes and schools, and how their efforts have made a tremendous impact on compliance record keeping. By then I’ve really gotten on a roll and start sharing some of the stories from the 143 Virtus sessions I have personally led. I promise you, the auditors will be very clear about how passionate we are for this mission.

I’m starting to feel sorry for the auditors! All that before they go on parish and/or school visits. In between visits they are combing our website and calling parishes and pastors to ask them about their Safe Environment policy. These are cold calls so there’s no rehearsal and no time for flowery hyperbole. Just the facts, Ma’am.

Isn’t that what it all comes down to anyway? In a mission so encased in sadness, and empathy, it is easy to get overwhelmed with emotion. But it’s all about numbers because one victim is too many. So a clear and concise plan of action — as is set forth in the Charter and carried out in our own Safe Environment Policy — has to be followed precisely to be effective. We cannot sway from our mission or be overwhelmed with emotion. Not only do we have to follow the Charter, we have to prove we follow the Charter. It is difficult. Caring for children always is, but the consequences are just too great. So we are happy and proud to follow the directive of the bishops. The auditors are simply making sure we stay the course. (They’re like Siri, only human, and they don’t fit in your pocket and they prefer Burger King French fries over McDonald’s.)

So keep that in mind should the auditors show up on your parish doorstep. The local coordinator for each site is in charge of compliance and record-keeping of the Safe Environment Policy. This is a year-round job so a visit from an auditor should only bring you confirmation of a job well done. The bottom line is, when we follow the Charter, children are safer.

Let me know if you have any questions. In the meantime, just for fun, you might want to get the supersize order of fries.

Comments from readers

Jan Rayburn - 04/15/2016 01:49 PM
Thank you everyone responding for your kind words of support and encouragement. I share them with you as this is truly the work of many. In particular I want to acknowledge all the Virtus Facilitators plus parish and school Local Coordinators for their tireless efforts in an often thankless job. You are my army of angels! God bless you.
Pat Solenski - 04/15/2016 09:36 AM
Jan Let me add my gratitude to you and your team for all your commitment and efforts in keeping the children safe.
Eddy Garcia - 04/13/2016 08:18 PM
A very informative article that also emphasizes the importance of such a monumental ministry, Thank you for all of your efforts for all of our children and vulnerable adults.
Deborah Rossiter - 04/13/2016 10:46 AM
Dear Jan, Well written. On behalf of all the Grandmothers I thank you for your hard work to keep our children safe. Debbie R.
Lisa Pinto - 04/12/2016 10:21 PM
Dear Jan, thank you for connecting the dots for us from enforcing every letter of the law to the safety of each child. Being the compliance officer is certainly thankless but keeping in mind the purpose of it all is well worth the tiresome efforts. Thank you for not sparing any needed word to paint the picture for us. May God bless you, our fingerprinting team, and all the local coordinators and Virtus facilitators!
Susy Del Riego - 04/12/2016 09:08 PM
Jan, thank you for being such an inspiration. Your leadership in this ministry is a hope to many. May God continue to guide you, protect you, and bless you and yours.
Katrhryn Cabrisas - 04/12/2016 01:54 PM
Jan, Thanks for sharing the info with us. It is nice to know you have faith in our working for the best our children and yes even that the auditors come. We all should always be on our toes.
Christine Williamson - 04/12/2016 01:44 PM
Thank you for explaining the whole process of the audit, it certainly makes our program more worthwhile and it a wonderful feeling that we are helping to keep our children and vulnerable adults safe. Thanks again for all you do.
Jennifer Nicholson - 04/12/2016 01:27 PM
Jan, thank for all of your time and efforts to help make our schools and parishes safe. Our families really appreciate that our school district is focused on the safety of the students first and foremost. Your work helps us to continue our mission of faith!
Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D. - 04/12/2016 01:02 PM
May your ministry continue to be the beacon of hope of so many! May the Lord continue to bless you! Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D. Principal Sts. Peter and Paul School
Jocelyn Zlatkin - 04/12/2016 12:12 PM
Thanks Jan for all your hard work and dedication for this ministry! Your enthusiasm encourages all of us to keep our ministry alive.
Yolanda del Rivero - 04/12/2016 11:14 AM
Jan, your enthusiasm and commitment makes all of our efforts work together for the safety of our children. It is a great program and it is making a great difference in the lives of not only children but also in the families. Yolanda del Rivero, St. Michael's DRE.
Elena Echeverria - 04/12/2016 10:13 AM
Thank you Jan for such an informative article!
Sister Lidia Valli - 04/12/2016 10:13 AM
Thank you, Jan, for all your hard work. From our part, we too try to welcome each auditing with this attitude: it will be a confirmation of a work well done. Kudos to you and all the volunteers, and we will pray that all the work and effort will be marked "Successful." We keep you in our prayer. Sister Lidia from the Marian Center School and Services, Inc.
Lisa Dodge - 04/12/2016 10:04 AM
What a great article. It is a bit scary when the auditors come because we all want to have a good grade and know that we are doing the right things for our children. As a school principal/local area coordinator we go through a lot of audits and each time we learn something new. WE learn what we are doing great and what we can improve on. This is what our job is all about. Things change daily and we need to be on task to make sure that we are teaching our children to be safe and knowledgeable.
Gina - 04/12/2016 10:02 AM
Great Job Jan! Thanks for all your dedication! One person CAN change the world!
craia@srlschool.com - 04/12/2016 08:45 AM
Great article Jan, keep up with the good work.

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