What Is Catholic Safe Environment Training?

Clergy abuse within the Roman Catholic Church is a significant problem that has only recently started to gain the attention it deserves from the public, the media and church officials. The Church took a step in the right direction in 2002 with the establishment of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Charter for Child and Youth Protection. This charter has since been responsible for the creation of the Safe Environment Program.

What Is the Safe Environment Program?

The USCCB’s Charter takes many actions to prevent child sexual abuse and assault within the Catholic Church. It creates guidelines for the prevention of future acts of abuse as well as how to hold clergy members accountable. It also helps survivors with healing and reconciliation. The Charter directs church leaders on how to create a safe environment for children and young people, as well as how to discipline known offenders, cooperate with authorities and ensure future accountability. The Charter underwent revisions in 2005, 2011 and 2018.

One of the key actions the Charter has taken is helping churches create safe environments for children and youth. The Safe Environment Program involves training for churches, youth organizations and schools to help ensure children are studying religion in the safest settings possible. It also allows parents and guardians to ask religious institutions whether they meet the requirements of the Charter before enrolling their children in any programs or activities. If the institution does not provide Catholic Safe Environment Training, the parent can choose to take his or her child someplace else.

How Can Churches Create Safe Environments?

Churches, schools and other organizations can create safe environments through special training and information from the Charter. According to the Charter, an organization’s Safe Environment Program must contain three main elements to comply with accepted national standards.

  1. A code of conduct for all paid personnel and unpaid volunteers within the clergy who have access to children.
  2. Safety and prevention training for all adults who work with children per guidelines from the Charter.
  3. A training program for children in keeping with Catholic teachings with age-appropriate awareness and education materials about personal safety.

Together, these components can enable a church or another religious institution to start a conversation about clergy abuse, detect signs of abuse, and prevent abusive relationships and incidents from occurring in the future. Having an effective Safe Environment Program in place could make all the difference for children involved in church activities.

About Catholic Safe Environment Training

The Charter breaks down specific components organizations must include in their Catholic Safe Environment Training to comply with national guidelines. First, the organization must provide training for adults about signs children may show after suffering sexual abuse. These can include emotional distress, social withdrawal and depression. Second, the organization must train adults on how to look for signs they may find in an adult who abuses children. These signs could include immaturity, substance abuse, isolation and frequent unsupervised access to children.

Third, an organization must train people on the actions they should take if they believe child abuse of any kind is occurring. These actions include notifying authorities within the church, keeping the child away from the alleged perpetrator and calling the police. Catholic Safe Environment Training can equip adults and children with the knowledge they need to spot, prevent and eradicate sexual abuse. When done correctly, this training may have the power to protect children from life-changing abuse.

Each diocese should make information about its Safe Environment Program and Catholic Safe Environment Training available for parishioners. The Diocese of Orange, for example, has a website with information about how it trains staff members. This Diocese has clergy abuse training programs for staff members as well as related curriculum for children in grades K-8. It also has powerful interactive tools to encourage youth in grades 9-12 to talk openly about abuse. Find out if your diocese has Safe Environment Training. Then, enroll yourself and your children to learn more about how to prevent clergy sexual abuse.