Beginning employment or ministry as a volunteer with responsibility for the care of others, especially minors, means undergoing a background check. This includes the by-now familiar criminal history check. At least once every five years, we do it all over again.
At the end of the paper trail for this safety and security process is Richard Serrano, our diocesan Human Resources Director.
Since our Safe Environment Program began in 2002, Richard and his team at the Pastoral Center have looked at more than 21,000 criminal history checks of persons seeking employment or a volunteer position at our parishes and schools.
Making sure that applicants don’t have a criminal history record or anything else in their past that would preclude them from working at a parish or school is a foundation block of our diocesan Safe Environment Program.
The process of conducting criminal history checks is indeed one of the essential elements of the Safe Environment Program.
These checks have had an impact.
One role of criminal history checks is as a deterrent (keeping potential offenders away); this is a powerful effect, in our experience. In addition, Richard reports that the checks themselves have consistently identified the one to two per cent of applicants who have problems or issues in their past that make them unfit or too risky for ministry.
The numbers are not great, but the cost of missing them would be.
When we began the requirement for criminal history checks nearly 10 years ago, there was some criticism that it was “overkill.”
Now, we know that what we do here in the Diocese of Tucson and in other dioceses around our country seems to have been in the vanguard of child safety efforts. Almost all secular child-serving organizations now require criminal history checks of some type. Other churches also are taking this path.
What have we learned in the past 10 years?
We’ve learned that a criminal history check is necessary–but isn’t enough. It does make our parishes and schools less inviting targets to those who might otherwise seek to gain entry and it does keep out applicants who have offended with minors in the past.
On the other hand, it does not catch the person who has not been caught yet or whose first offense is yet to occur.
We’ve learned that the criminal history check needs to be part of a larger, more extensive process of screening and that it needs to work synergistically with the other three essential elements of the safe environment program: educating, maintaining good boundaries and reporting to law enforcement.
We’ve learned that when an issue or problem that would preclude employment or volunteer status shows up in a criminal history check it is not easy to deliver that news to an applicant.
Richard makes that notification with respect, making clear that the goal of the check is not to punish or embarrass, but to protect the integrity of our system that protects our children, youth and vulnerable adults.
Our system of background checks always leans in the direction of honoring our responsibility to take the utmost care in selecting persons who will faithfully serve children, youth and vulnerable adults in our parishes and schools.
If you or anyone you know has experienced abuse by a priest, deacon, sister, brother, employee or volunteer for the Roman Catholic Church or for the Diocese of Tucson – no matter when or where the abuse happened – we urge you to report the abuse immediately to law enforcement. Also, we encourage you to call the Victim Assistance Program of the Diocese of Tucson at 1-800-234-0344 in Arizona and the Office of Child, Adolescent and Adult Protection of the Diocese of Tucson at 520-792-3410. More information is available at www.diocesetucson.org/ocaap.html.