Seminaries commit to meeting sexual misconduct benchmarks

Fifteen US seminaries have committed to using new sexual misconduct benchmarks to assess how well their misconduct policies are working and if their seminarians know about them.

The benchmarks were developed at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame after surveying responses from 1,544 seminarians in 2018.

A 20-person study group of laypeople – both men and women, seminary leaders and bishops, then formed and developed the benchmarks.

Institute director, John Cavadini, says the group worked hard to come up with benchmarks “so that if you adopted all of them into your policy, you would have a policy that is credible to potential victims,”.

Making sure all seminarians are protected is essential, he says.

The benchmarks will ensure that the no seminarian is left thinking seminary administrators and faculty don’t take issues of sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct very seriously.

They will also address concerns about a lack of awareness of misconduct policies and procedures of a seminary or house of formation. At the time of the 2018 survey, 41 percent of respondents said they were only “somewhat aware,” “a little aware,” or “not at all aware” of these policies and procedures

One member of the 20-person study group is a seminary director.

The benchmarks mean seminaries can make sure their sexual misconduct policy is shaped so no one gets lost in it, he says. Reporting sexual misconduct is “something that no one should be fearful about.”

A bishop who was a study group member says the benchmarks will help meet the standards for sexual abuse prevention detailed in the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

“This is a positive approach where we’re asking institutions to commit themselves. These are good things, these five benchmarks.

“Parents of seminarians are very concerned about making sure their sons are being sent to a safe environment.

“I believe that a good response in light of the McCarrick scandal is that we have basic protocols is place. So the benchmarks are a good start.”

The benchmarks are:

— Systematic training for seminarians, staff and faculty on policies on sexual harassment and reporting procedures.

— Reporting and investigation to include internal procedures and the ability to report issues to an agency outside of the seminary structure and that is independent of the seminary.

— Victim support as the process moves forward to respect confidentiality and guard against retaliation.

— Proactivity in assessing seminary culture to ensure seminarians, staff and faculty understand the existing misconduct policy and to report issues so they can be addressed.

— Consistency and portability of policies so they apply to the different assignments and ministry venues in which a seminarian is working.

Cavadini says more seminaries and houses of formation are expected to commit to the benchmarks as they circulate more widely.

The Institute’s 2018 study followed reports about onetime cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct involving seminarians.

It found six percent of the victims reported sexual harassment or misconduct, while 90 percent reported none.


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