WHEELING, W.Va. — In a mission to increase safety and reduce risk in Catholic schools and parishes, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is expanding its Safe Environment Program.
Bishop Mark Brennan and the diocese announced changes to the program on Thursday.
This comes 16 months after the diocese released the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors, and follows former Bishop Michael Bransfield stepping down amidst sexual harassment allegations.
“I write to you with hope and confidence that the efforts to establish a culture of safety and awareness in our diocese continue to move forward in significant ways,” Brennan said in his letter.
One of the major changes coming is expanding the requirement of fingerprinting as part of the diocese’s background check process. Corporate Security and Investigations (CSI) of Pennsylvania, a third-party service provider, will conduct Safe Environment spot checks, site assessments, and training.
Brennan, all priests and deacons, seminarians, Catholic school principals, teachers, staff, and certain volunteers, as well as chancery staff, will be required to submit the fingerprints. The fingerprints will then be submitted to and housed within the FBI, a release said. Fingerprint records will not be kept by schools or the diocese.
The diocese announced that CSI representatives will be visiting parishes and schools beginning this year to perform more frequent and regular spot checks to ensure compliance, accuracy, and consistency at the local level.
In addition, the diocese, through CSI experts, and Diocesan counsel, will also offer training on safety, de-escalation, and harassment of professional staff.
CSI experts will also assess and evaluate site security and offer recommendations to enhance the physical safety of people, buildings, and properties, per release.
“Our school children and our parishioners are our greatest gifts and our greatest resources,” Bryan Minor, director of Diocesan Administrative Services and Safe Environment Process administrator said in a release. “Ensuring their safety is an ongoing process that involves collaboration and cooperation on many fronts.
“There are many good, hard-working people throughout our diocese at the parish and school levels who are committed to helping the diocese create safe environments to worship and learn. Their efforts are deeply appreciated. These new measures that the diocese is undertaking to illustrate Bishop Brennan’s leadership toward creating a culture of safety throughout West Virginia.”
In addition to the new protocols to the Safe Environment Program, Brennan noted that the diocese has worked for several months on the implementation of the third-party reporting system known as Ethics Point, which will soon be incorporated.