AUSTIN (KXAN) — The decision by the Texas Catholic Conference to identify clergy, staff and volunteers who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of children signifies an effort to be more transparent, but not a change in how those accusations are handled.
The Diocese of Austin adopted its Ethics and Integrity in Ministry program in 2002 in response to an order by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for every diocese in the country to implement measures to protect children from abuse. The EIM has been revised six times since then, but another revision in response to this week’s announcement seems unlikely.
In an email before the list was published, Austin Diocese spokesman Christian Gonzales wrote, “I do not believe there are any plans to change the EIM program.”
How the program works
The EIM requires anyone who joins the diocese as clergy, staff or volunteer undergo a criminal background check and take part in a workshop on how to spot and prevent abuse every three years.
It also lays out examples of inappropriate behavior with children, including “long or inappropriate embraces, kisses on the mouth and touching knees, legs, buttocks, chests or genital areas.”
The EIM also requires clergy, staff and volunteers to report any suspected abuse of a child to law enforcement, which is also required by Texas law. They’re also required to file a Notice of Concern with the diocese. The language isn’t as strong for adults who allege they were abused as children. In that case, church members are required to “encourage” the person to report the allegation to police and file a Notice of Concern.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops charter does not include specific policies for dioceses to implement. Instead, it directs diocese to create policies that will protect children and discipline offenders. Gonzales says USCCB audits dioceses every year to make sure its policies are working.