The following is a pastoral letter from Bishop J. Peter Sartain, bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2003.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our little ones and our young people are precious treasures. Prayerfully, parents and family members do all in their power to guide them, protect them and nurture the life they have been given by God. In the same way, as members of the Body of Christ, we want to show the same loving concern to children entrusted to our care.
As you know, the Bishops of the United States, through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, have committed themselves to the protection of children and the healing of those who have been victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by a person acting in the name of the Church. One aspect of the Charter is the development of a policy by each diocese to accomplish these critical goals.
My predecessor, the Most Rev. Andrew J. McDonald, first developed our diocesan policy in 1992 and revised it in 1996. Thus, the policy I am now issuing is a third revision of our policy, which was already in place. I am grateful to Bishop McDonald for the pastoral leadership he showed in this regard many years ago.
The policy deals with a number of matters of procedure and protocol, but it is extremely important that I stress its main purpose and focus: to visibly demonstrate our concern for the children and young people of our diocese, to offer our heartfelt assistance to anyone who has been sexually abused by someone acting in the name of the Church, and to ensure that our diocese always provides safe environments in which children can grow in faith and love.
Please join me in prayer that the goals of this policy will be accomplished in a way that befits our love for God and our respect for every human life. Together, may we follow the Holy Spirit’s lead in living as Jesus taught, and building up the Body of Christ.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. J. Peter Sartain
Bishop of Little Rock
The following is the complete text of a policy outlining the diocesan response in the event of charges of sexual abuse of minors directed against anyone acting as an agent of the Diocese of Little Rock. It is the product of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” [hereafter referenced as “Charter”], promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, and the “Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons,” [Hereafter referenced as “Essential Norms”], approved by the Congregation for Bishops, December 8, 2002.
It should be noted that Arkansas Code 12-12-507 requires the reporting of suspected child abuse. This policy is not intended to prevent anyone from filing a report of the suspected sexual abuse of a minor directly to civil authorities and the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Rather, it is a step-by-step description of the process, which the Diocese of Little Rock would undertake when it is notified of the suspected sexual abuse of a minor.
The document in its entirety addresses all clerical, religious, lay, paid and unpaid church personnel within the Diocese of Little Rock.
Policies Regarding The Sexual Abuse
of Minors by Church Personnel
Diocese of Little Rock
This policy applies to priests, men and women religious and deacons. It also applies to lay employees and volunteers.
Any allegation against the bishop is directed to one of the Vicars General, who contacts the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the Metropolitan Archbishop, and the Apostolic Nuncio (The Pope’s representative in the United States. In Church law, allegations against the bishop are directed for action to this office, which, in turn, directs them to the Vatican.)
The diocesan bishop is responsible for the promulgation and implementation of this policy. He fulfills the implementation of the policy through his Vicars General and the Diocesan Review Board. The Diocesan Review Board has been established, in accord with the Charter and the Essential Norms, to advise the bishop in his assessment of allegations of the sexual abuse of minors and his response to them, and to regularly review this policy.
This policy provides that there will be two responses made in light of allegations of even a single act of the sexual abuse of minors. The first response will be an immediate administrative response, which will be conducted by one of the Vicars General.
The second response is an ongoing one that will be conducted by a Review Board. The following policy takes us step-by-step through the process by which both the Vicar General and the Review Board conduct their responses.
For those matters that concern the Catholic Church in Arkansas, it is the policy of the Diocese of Little Rock that all allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Church personnel shall be dealt with in accord with the following norms. All personnel of the diocese must comply with applicable state and local laws and the procedures outlined in this document. This policy is designed to conform to the requirements of civil and criminal law in the State of Arkansas and to Canon Law, the law of the Church. It was originally developed in 1992 and revised in 1996, to deal with the psychological, pastoral and spiritual dimensions of the procedures to be followed. The Diocesan Review Board has reviewed and revised it as needed to conform to the Charter and the Norms. The bishop will ensure that appropriate educational implements are used in order to disseminate this policy throughout the diocese.
In both civil and canon law, persons accused of crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty. According to the provisions of Canon 220 of the Code of Canon Law, which deals with a person’s right to privacy and protection from defamation of character, all the proceedings in this policy are of the highest confidential nature. The appropriate penalties outlined in the Code of Canon Law apply to any member of the Review Board who violates the confidentiality to which all parties involved in these proceedings have a right.
There is always the possibility of false or mistaken accusations and unsubstantiated claims, made for whatever reason. It is important for all church personnel to know that both civil and canon law (canons 1390-1391) provide for penalties of falsehood in which individuals become victims of false denunciation and calumny.
This policy provides the procedures to be followed in the event that allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Church personnel arise. All Church personnel should read this document carefully and be aware of its contents. They should also use great prudence and carefully avoid situations that lend themselves to even the appearance of sexual abuse or indiscretion in dealing with minors. Any Church personnel who read this document and who know themselves or others to have sexually abused minors should contact one of the Vicars General, who will activate the provisions of this policy, including securing appropriate care for all involved. This policy, then, becomes part of church law within the Diocese of Little Rock and conforms to the Essential Norms promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved by the Congregation for Bishops.
Step 1: The Immediate Administrative Response
Arkansas law requires certain categories of professions to report suspected sexual abuse of minors to the Arkansas Department of Human Services or law enforcement officers. (Arkansas Code Annotated, 12-12-507, see note in Appendix.) Even if not required by law, all Church personnel in the diocese, including volunteers, are to report all such incidents except when to do so would break the seal of confession. When the alleged perpetrator is a member of the personnel of the diocese, or any of its parishes, entities, or organizations, the accuser shall also convey the allegation immediately to one of the Vicars General, who then immediately takes and documents the following actions. Given the expanse of the Diocese of Little Rock, the Vicar General will inform the accuser that he/she need not come to Little Rock to make a complaint, but rather he will offer to go to the accuser in person to assist as this policy directs.
The Vicar General informs the person reporting the complaint or allegation that the diocese has both a policy and a procedure to be followed in this matter and that this procedure will now be activated.
The Vicar General immediately reports the complaint or allegation to the Arkansas Department of Human Services through the Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-482-5964). As long as the alleged victim is a child at the time when the allegations come to light, all allegations of sexual abuse will be reported. Even dubious or apparently spurious charges will be reported. The Vicar General also writes a letter within five (5) working days to the Department of Human Services and sends a copy to the office of the Prosecuting Attorney. This letter should outline the administrative steps that will be taken and request that the Department of Human Services and the Prosecuting Attorney keep him fully informed as to the progress and outcome of their investigation.
Allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated on an alleged victim who is presently no longer a minor, but was a minor at the time of the incident, should be directed to the bishop for appropriate investigation and action, even if the statute of limitations has expired.
The Vicar General contacts the bishop, to whom he provides the details as known, including the identity of the alleged perpetrator and the alleged victim, and provides him with the means of contacting the person reporting the complaint or allegation. He cautions the bishop not to hear the sacramental confession of the accused. The Review Board and the Assistance Coordinator will also be notified immediately.
For those cases in which the accused is under the direct supervision of someone other than the bishop, the following steps will be taken.
a.) If the accused is a member of a religious order, the Vicar General contacts the major Religious Superior to inform him or her of the complaints and that the diocesan policy for handling such complaints has been activated.
b.) Similarly, if the accused is an associate pastor, resident priest or deacon, the Vicar General contacts the direct employer or administrative superior of the accused (see Appendix) to inform him or her of the complaints, the diocesan policy for handling such complaints and the required automatic administrative leave of the priest or deacon. Additionally, priests or deacons who are placed on administrative leave may not function as a deacon/priest in any public liturgical service.
c.) If the accused is a lay employee, lay pastoral minister, or volunteer, the Vicar General contacts his or her direct employer or administrative superior to inform him or her of the complaints, the diocesan policy for handling such complaints and the required automatic leave of the employee or volunteer.
The Vicar General contacts the accused, mandates an appropriate relocation of the accused (if the person is a religious or cleric) and takes steps to deny the accused access to the place where the alleged sexual abuse occurred (including, in accord with Canon 49, the possibility of a personal precept from the bishop). He reveals the name of the accuser but avoids discussion of the allegations with the accused.
The accused is immediately placed on leave of absence (with pay at the discretion of the bishop), and, in the case of a priest, his temporary residence will be determined by the bishop or the Vicar General. This leave is mandatory and applies even in case of dubious or apparently spurious allegations. This leave does not imply guilt or innocence. It is an administrative measure to protect the rights of all parties. This leave remains in effect until the Arkansas Department of Human Services concludes its investigation and decides not to file civil or criminal charges against the accused. If charges are filed by the Prosecuting Attorney, the leave continues until the trial is completed.
The Vicar General advises the accused to enlist his or her own legal counsel independent of the diocese. To the extent that the accused is insured for the legal defense, the accused should consult the diocesan insurance carrier immediately.
If there is sufficient evidence and reasonable cause to warrant it, the Vicar General works with the accused to arrange a thorough psychological and/or psychiatric evaluation and requests a signed release for access to the results of the evaluation.
The Vicar General notifies all the members of the Review Board that a case is pending and reminds the priest members of the team that they must not hear the sacramental confession of the accused.
The Vicar General contacts the accuser, the parents of the alleged victim and, when he and the parents judge it appropriate (perhaps with the advice of a psychologist or counselor), the alleged victim, in order to offer help and to inform the victim of the administrative steps which the diocese has taken.
Immediately, the Vicar General notifies the diocesan attorney and insurance carrier of the case at hand.
Finally, the Vicar General compiles a report verifying that each of these steps have been taken. This report is submitted at least verbally to the bishop within 24 to 48 hours.
Step 2: The Ongoing Pastoral Response
When the bishop receives the report cited in #11, the Vicar General, the Review Board, and the Assistance Coordinator, under the direction of the bishop, will oversee the pastoral care of the alleged victim and his or her family, the alleged perpetrator, the accuser, parishes of the alleged victim and/or alleged perpetrator, the greater Catholic community and the general public.
The following procedures will be followed by the Review Board:
Phase 1: While the civil and/or criminal investigation is still in progress:
No administrative investigation or canonical trial should be initiated until after the civil or criminal investigation and/or trial has been completed. In this phase of the case, the Review Board shall concern itself with advising the bishop regarding the pastoral care of the alleged victim and his or her family, the alleged perpetrator, the accuser, and the parish or other groups that have been affected.
Coordinating insofar as possible his/her efforts with the Arkansas Department of Human Services and the investigation detective assigned to the case by the Prosecuting Attorney, the Assistance Coordinator attempts to contact the alleged victim and his or her family in person, reiterating the offer of the diocese to provide pastoral help. When appropriate, he/she also offers to provide pastoral help to the accuser. The Assistance Coordinator then writes them a letter reaffirming this offer and the interest of the diocese in providing them with whatever help they need.
The Assistance Coordinator attempts to provide the alleged perpetrator with whatever care can be provided under the circumstances of the case.
All clergy, Church employees and volunteers are to refrain from public comments regarding the case, and all media personnel must be directed to the designated diocesan spokesperson for information regarding the case. This spokesperson responds in the name of the diocese to all inquires regarding the case.
The Review Board and Assistance Coordinator take appropriate steps to advise the bishop regarding ways to assist the parish and/or other relevant groups, if such assistance is warranted.
Phase 2: After the civil or criminal investigation and/or trial has been completed:
Pastoral measures to be taken by the Review Board regardless of the results of the civil or criminal investigation:
The Assistance Coordinator writes the alleged victim and his or her family, and the accuser, reaffirming the concern of the diocese for their well-being and reiterating the desire of the diocese to provide what he/she deems is appropriate care. Such care will vary in each situation.
The Review Board advises the bishop regarding what it sees as appropriate pastoral care for the accuser. If it appears to the bishop that he or she would benefit from specialized care, this may be provided at diocesan expense following upon the recommendation of the Review Board and at the discretion of the bishop.
The Review Board advises the bishop regarding what it deems is appropriate care to the parish or community affected by the accusations. Pastoral care for problems related to the accusations and specialized care at diocesan expense are to be included.
Consistent with Article 3 of the Charter, the diocese will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim/survivor and noted in the text of the agreement.
Administrative measures to be taken by the appropriate administrative superior upon completion of the civil or criminal investigation:
- If the accused is found to have sexually abused a minor, whether in criminal, juvenile or civil court, the following administrative measures will be taken:
- the offending priest (diocesan, religious or extern) or deacon, will be permanently removed from ministry, in accord with the Essential Norms, 8-10; in addition, he will not be transferred for ministerial assignment to another diocese or religious province, in accord with the Essential Norms, 12.
- Lay employees and volunteers will be dismissed.
- If the accused is not prosecuted but is nevertheless found by the Review Board to be partially imputable for serious indiscreet actions which fall short of criminal acts, the following measures will be taken:
- A priest will be placed on extended leave with pay. His place of residence will be mutually decided by the bishop and himself.
- Religious or externs priests will be placed on extended leave and will be bound by the policies of their Diocese or religious communities.
- Deacons will be placed on extended leave.
- Lay employees and volunteers will be subject to dismissal.
If the accused is exonerated of the charges, the following measures will be taken:
Every effort will be made to restore the accused to his or her previous ministry. If a return to the previous ministry is not possible, the Review Board will make recommendations to the bishop in order to assist the accused in finding another ministry.
The diocese will assist the accused cleric, lay person or volunteer in finding appropriate care to help him/her deal with the trauma of being subjected to the proceedings involved in this investigation.
Serious efforts will be made to repair the damage done to the reputation of the accused.
Interaction with the Media:
In each and every instance when an accusation has been made against an individual who works in the name of the Diocese of Little Rock, contact with and response to the media will be made by the diocese through the Office of the Chancellor for Administration, or in his absence, by one designated by the Bishop. This individual will also act as the Diocesan spokesperson as cited above.
The bishop and the Review Board will review these policies every two years. In addition, a formal audit of these diocesan policies will be conducted by an independent firm through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to ensure compliance with national and universal Church Norms.
We hope and pray that the provisions of this policy will never have to be applied. To assist in the goal of protecting our children, the diocese has undertaken two essential programs: First, to establish a “safe environment” program and incorporate it throughout the diocese. An attachment to this policy will outline the essential elements of “Protecting God’s Children,” including a detailed “Code of Conduct,” expected of all who fall under this policy. Second, to establish a standard for background checks of all those who would have contact with minors, especially those who would be candidates for sacred ministry. Such information on clerics will also be shared with appropriate Church authorities in the event of a transfer or change of assignment.
Should allegations arise regarding the sexual abuse of minors by Church personnel in the Diocese of Little Rock, it will be very important that the provisions of this policy be followed carefully and that all parties involved in the complaint receive suitable pastoral care and protection.
I. “Sexual Abuse”
- Includes solicitations of participation in sexual activity with a juvenile by an adult or person responsible for the care and maintenance of the juvenile. Sexual abuse also includes any offense relating to sexual activity, abuse or exploitation, including rape and incest, as set out and defined in the Arkansas Criminal Code and amendments thereto, 5-1-101 et seq.
- Arkansas law describes a child or a juvenile as an individual who: is under the age of eighteen (18) years, whether married or single; is under the age of twenty-one (21) years, whether married or single, who was adjudicated delinquent under the Arkansas Juvenile Code for an act committed prior to the age of eighteen (18) years and for whom the Court retains jurisdiction; or was adjudicated dependent-neglected under the Arkansas Juvenile Code before reaching the age of eighteen (18) years and who, while engaged in a course of instruction or treatment, requests the court to retain jurisdiction until the course has been completed.
In Canon Law, a minor is also anyone who habitually lacks the use of reason (e.g., the mentally retarded).
III. “Diocese or Diocesan”
- includes the Diocese of Little Rock as a corporate entity, all the parish corporations and all diocesan schools.
IV. "Church Personnel"
- All incardinated priests, all incardinated permanent deacons and all incardinated transitional deacons of the diocese.
- All religious priests and deacons; all religious sisters and brothers working for the diocese.
- All those non-ordained persons to whom a participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish is entrusted according to Canon 517, Section 2 of the Code of Canon Law, e.g. Pastoral Administrators.
- All seminarians who seek ordination as clerics of the diocese before being admitted to candidacy, while engaged in work on behalf of the diocese of Little Rock;
- All candidates for the diaconate (non-transitional);
- All clerics of other jurisdictions who are accepted for work in the diocese.
- All assigned Pastoral Ministers.
- All personnel of Catholic schools of the diocese (administration, faculty and support staff).
- All religious education directors and teachers in the parishes and schools of the diocese.
- All youth ministers in the parishes, schools and institutions of the diocese.
- All personnel of diocesan campus ministry programs.
- All paid personnel in the offices of the diocese, in the parishes of the diocese, in the schools of the diocese.
- All who volunteer for work on a significant scale in the offices and institutions mentioned above, and such other personnel as designated by the bishop of the diocese.
V. Direct Employer or Administrative Supervisor
Includes the following individuals:
- The pastor of the parish or institution, principal of a school, administrator of a hospital
- Religious superiors of Convents and Monasteries
- Those who hold supervisory roles in agencies attached to the diocese
- Pastoral Administrators
Arkansas Code Annotated 12-12-507 – the latest version of this Code follows this policy.