Diocese again in compliance with abuse charter
Audit examined safe environment policies
After a thorough audit of diocesan policies and practices, the Diocese of Pittsburgh again has been found to be in full compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."
"The purpose of the audit was to ensure that the diocese has implemented a safe environment program that conforms to the articles and essential norms contained in the national 'Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,'" said Ron Ragan, director of the diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Young People. "The Diocese of Pittsburgh was found to be in compliance with the charter."
In addition to meetings with Bishop David Zubik, the auditors, as they usually do, interviewed a number of central administration department and office heads involved not only with the safe environment component but with every aspect of the charter, Ragan said.
"They also checked compliance documents on file in central administration, including compliance files in the centralized database," he said.
The auditors visited three large suburban parishes: St. Ferdinand in Cranberry Township, St. Benedict the Abbot in Peters Township and St. Margaret of Scotland in Green Tree.
"The parish visits included the checking of employee and volunteer compliance documents, and interviews with the pastors, safe environment coordinators and catechetical administrators, and, in the case of St. Margaret, they also interviewed the elementary school principal," Ragan said.
Audits for several years following the implementation of the charter focused primarily on central administration in order to determine if the diocese had the necessary polices and procedures in place as required by the charter, he said.
"In recent years, starting in 2008, the auditors requested and were given permission by Bishop Zubik to visit parishes," Ragan said. "The purpose of parish visits is to see firsthand how diocesan safe environment policies and procedures are being implemented on a local level. In essence, are we doing what we say we are doing, and how well are we doing it."
There actually are two types of audits -- an on-site audit, and an audit submitted on paper without the diocese being visited, he said.
"Several years ago the USCCB established three-year cycles," Ragan said. "A diocese could choose to have an on-site audit in one of the three years. In the other two years, the diocese is permitted to submit a statistical or paper audit without being visited by an audit team.
"Bishop Zubik wants complete transparency and has requested an on-site audit each year. This fiscal year (2011-12) will be the ninth consecutive year that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has participated in an on-site audit."
The Diocese of Pittsburgh has always been found to be in compliance with the charter, he said.
The latest audit was conducted in September 2011 by a new company, StoneBridge Business Partners, which is based in Rochester, N.Y.
"It is my understanding that the USCCB solicited open bids and a number of private auditing firms responded, and Stonebridge Business Partners were awarded a three-year contract," Ragan said.
The previous audits were conducted by the Gavin Group, based in Boston.
"Having not been involved in the process I can only speculate," Ragan said about why the auditing firms were changed. "Contracts are seldom open-ended and are normally awarded for a specific period of time. It is my understanding that the contract with the Gavin Group was about to expire, and the USCCB followed normal procedure and opened the process for new bids. In addition to cost, the positives that can result from change may have been an important factor in the awarding of the contract."
The audit was conducted for the USCCB's Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.
"Dioceses in the United States are not compared with one another, but rather are audited based on the policies and procedures established and implemented to address the requirements of the charter," Ragan said. "A diocese is either in compliance or out of compliance. Obviously, the USCCB is always interested in safe environment 'best practices,' and, if identified, are communicated to dioceses and eparchies in the United States by the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection."
Ragan said his department's role in conducting the audit involves Articles 12 and 13 of the charter.
"Specifically, that means the implementation of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Safe Environment Policy, including criminal and child abuse background checks; the Code of Pastoral Conduct and the Protecting God's Children Program for educating adults on how to recognize and prevent abuse," he said. "My office is also responsible for the management of the safe environment centralized database for tracking parish and school compliance with the policy. Training database site administrators (safe environment coordinators, catechetical administrators and principals) is also part of that responsibility. When the on-site audit was conducted in our diocese, I also accompanied the auditors when they visited parishes and schools."
Father Lawrence DiNardo is the diocesan vicar for canonical services, director of the Department for Canon and Civil Law Services, and also serves as chairman of the audit committee, which is responsible for ensuring diocesan compliance with the charter.
"The Diocese of Pittsburgh is the only diocese that in addition to the required on-site audit every three years also requests a yearly audit of the diocese and parishes," Father DiNardo said. "The audit is an important tool so that the diocese can continue not only to meet the standards of the charter but continue to ensure the children, young people and vulnerable adults are protected. Once again, the auditors found that the Diocese of Pittsburgh was only in compliance with the charter but exceeded the requirements of the charter."
It is important to remember that the entire safe environment effort in the Diocese of Pittsburgh is a result of the "steadfast leadership of Bishop Zubik," Ragan said.
"Without his unwavering commitment and support our efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults would not be nearly as effective," he said.
"I also want to recognize our priests, permanent deacons, safe environment coordinators, principals and catechetical administrators who play such an important role in ensuring that everyone being served by our parishes and schools can do so in a safe environment. Without their tireless efforts, none of this would be possible.
"Finally, the dedication and commitment of our parish employees and volunteers never ceases to amaze me. They understand the importance of this effort and continue to comply with safe environment in overwhelming numbers."