Hello and welcome!
This week I am in transit to Rome in anticipation of the next meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals. So, I have asked Vivian Soper to share some reflections with you about the work of our Office of Pastoral Support and Child Protection, which does so much to help survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the archdiocese.
– Cardinal Seán
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Hello. My name is Vivian. I am the Director of Pastoral Support and Child Protection for the Archdiocese of Boston. Thank you to Cardinal Seán for inviting me to be his guest blogger today.
The last few months have been extraordinarily difficult for the people whose lives have been impacted by clergy abuse. Every story can hit like a punch to the gut, triggering pain and memories of horrific abuses that happened when people were the most vulnerable. Abuses happened at the hands of those who were supposed to be the shepherds to those in their care. It should not have happened, and we need to do all that we can to help those who were hurt. We must do all that we can to prevent abuse now.
Please allow me a moment to tell you all about the things that we are doing now to help those who were abused and to prevent future abuse. The Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach (OPSO) exists to provide assistance to those who were directly impacted by clergy abuse here in the Archdiocese of Boston. We have two social workers on staff, Kristen and myself, who are here to listen and help in any way that we can. Most people know that we take reports of abuse and pay for behavioral health treatment for those who were harmed. But we do much more. Through OPSO those who were hurt can get ongoing pastoral support from our staff, wellness training, opportunities to share with others in similar situations, and connections with services through other community providers when needed.
We also provide services to parishes, schools, and the community. A project led by survivors brings a rosary for victims of abuse to parishes throughout the diocese. There are survivors who bring their stories to parishes to help people understand this problem through their perspective and to engage in discussions with parishioners and staff. We are expanding our peer support network to connect survivors and family members who are interested in meeting others who want to share their experience. We are available to the parishes and the community for education and open discussion. If you would like to bring the rosary or a discussion to your parish, please let us know.
Our mission is not only to help those who were abused, but also to help prevent abuse in our parishes, schools, and community. The staff of our Office of Child Advocacy works daily with our staff, volunteers, and clergy to give everyone the skills they need to create a safe space for children and vulnerable adults, to recognize danger signs, and to know what to do if they suspect something has happened. All clergy, employees, and volunteers who have any contact with children, and many who don’t, complete the Protecting God’s Children training. Our schools and our religious education classes provide age appropriate Safe Environment Training for our children. Child Advocacy staff provide guidance when concerns are raised and assist parishes and schools in keeping everyone safe. All clergy, staff, and volunteers are mandated reporters and any allegation about possible abuse of a child in reported to DCF. The Office of Background Screening conducts annual CORI checks and National Sex Offender Registry checks on all clergy, staff, and volunteers in our parishes and schools.
Sexual abuse of a child is an abhorrent crime. Any abuse of a child is horrific. It should never have happened, not anywhere in society and certainly not in the Catholic Church. But it did. That is something that we must never forget and must never ignore, not even for a moment. We must remain committed to helping those who were hurt and focused on preventing abuse now and in the future.
Everyone can help. If you were abused within the church, no matter when it happened, we want to know, and we want to help. Please call me. If you know someone who was abused, please encourage them to contact us. If you have not already been trained in child abuse prevention, do it now. Invite your neighbors and friends to join you. To find an upcoming training go to VIRTUS at https://www.virtusonline.org/virtus/reg_list2.cfm?theme=0 .
One last thing. No one person can solve this problem alone. The solution needs to come from the top down, the bottom up, and from all sides. To help those who were hurt and prevent abuse in the future, we all need to keep our eye on the issue. We must not give into the temptation to ignore it, hoping it will go away.
Thank you for your efforts and call us any time. You can reach us at 617-746-5985.
Vivian Soper, LICSW