For The Dialog
Most people don’t know Sister Carroll Juliano yet, but her work has a major impact on how the Catholic Church operates in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Sister Carroll is coordinator of Safe Environments in the diocese, charged with ensuring the safety of children while they are involved in church activities and with educating those children on the elements that comprise a safe environment.
Her office’s presence follows children as they enter Catholic schools and religious education classes, receive their first Communion, are confirmed and, for some, help their parishes as lectors, greeters, musicians, singers and eucharistic ministers. Her work accompanies Catholics when they attend parish programs for the whole family; it went with Salesianum School’s perennial powerhouse swim team to the Delaware state meet last weekend, was at a recent dance for teenagers at St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin, and accompanies teenagers who participate in parish-organized mission trips outside the diocese or to Pitcher and
Basin, a Gospel-based work camp organized by Catholic Youth Ministry.
Catholic Appeal helps
Sister Carroll’s work is funded in part by the Annual Catholic Appeal, which also provides money to 36 other specific ministries or services in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore. More than 100,000 people were served by ministries and services supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal last year.
The appeal has a goal of $4,347,000 this year, the same as last year, under the theme “Open Your Heart to Christ.” Catholics in the pews will be asked to make a commitment to this year’s appeal at Masses the weekend of March 29 and 30.
Sister Carroll’s Safe Environments office helps schools, parishes, ministries and paid and volunteer personnel follow diocesan guidelines published in 2003 under the title “For the Sake of God’s Children.” The policy calls for background checks of those who routinely come in contact with children involved in church programs; ethical and behavioral standards; guidelines for a safe environment in parish communities and church institutions, and educational information for teachers, parents, volunteers and children.
“The diocese has done a very good job in training people to accept and know ‘For the Sake of God’s Children,’” said Sister Carroll, who started in her position last September after a six-year stint on the leadership team of her community, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. Previously, she helped lead conferences and co-wrote books on such topics as collaborative ministry, building community, forgiveness and sexuality.
The people of the Diocese of Wilmington understand the value of the safe environment program, she said. “Most people are very cooperative and understanding of the program and are willing to work with it.”
Her office also works with Catholic schools and parish religious education programs to present a safe environment curriculum, “Keeping Our Promises,” for pre-kindergarten through grade 12. The curriculum makes children aware of what a safe environment is by addressing such topics as secrets, bullying, harassment, healing and life as a gift of God.
“If a parent has a concern about the safety of children in a program it comes to my office,” Sister Carroll said.
However, the Office of Safe Environments does not investigate complaints of possible abuse. “If there is an actual complaint of abuse [either new or from the past], it goes to the survivor assistance coordinator,” Sister Carroll explained.
The breadth of the safe environments program becomes obvious when Sister Carroll notes there currently are about 15,000 “cleared” adults in the diocese, those who have passed formal background checks. In her first five months on the job, about 1,500 background checks were done.
“Since the program started in 2003, we’ve had 25,000 to 30,000 people who have gone through background checks,” she said.
The background checks are so extensive, Bishop Malooly said, because “anyone regularly interacting with children – teachers, priests, deacons, coaches, leaders of youth ministry, and Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders, for example – are required to have a background check renewable every five years.”
The effectiveness of “For the Sake of God’s Children” is reflected in annual audits done by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops under its “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults,” developed in 2002 in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse scandals of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Bishop Malooly said, “the Diocese of Wilmington has been in complete compliance” every year since the audits began.
While the diocese adopted “For the Sake of God’s Children” in 2003, the Office of Safe Environments was not created until Sister Carroll began as its coordinator last September.
Sister Suzanne Donovan, who oversaw “For the Sake of God’s Children” after it was adopted, was also director of human resources. The program, although it was separate from human resources, operated out of that office until Sister Suzanne retired last year, Sister Carroll said.
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To report a complaint of sexual abuse
To report a complaint of sexual abuse, call Peggy McLaughlin, the diocesan survivor assistance coordinator, at 302-468-4507
For more information on safe environments, call Sister Carroll Juliano at 295-0668.