April 19, 2010.
As part of its ongoing effort to ensure safe environments for youth in its schools and formation centers as well as in any Regnum Christi-sponsored activities, the Legion of Christ has been working with Praesidium
, a risk management organization, earning its full “safe environment” accreditation this past April 15. In the following interview, Fr Steven Reilly, LC, the Legion’s Safe Environment Coordinator, explains what the Praesidium accreditation entails and how the Legion is working to ensure the protection of youth. Q: Fr Steven, could you tell us a little about your role?
A: Following the sex abuse crisis of 2002, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) instituted a “safe environment” accreditation program with Praesidium, a risk management organization that has helped many, many secular and religious organizations to implement good policies and procedures that help protect kids from any harm in the different youth activities they sponsor. Not all religious orders of men have pursued this. I think around around two-thirds have and admittedly it took the Legion some time to decide to do it. But when the decision was taken two years ago and I was asked to oversee the process, I found nothing but cooperation from the Legion’s superiors in carrying it out. We attained full accreditation this month (April 2010). Q: What does this accreditation entail?
A: It is a very comprehensive approach to the issue of safe environments. There are twenty-five accreditation standards that cover the areas of prevention, response and supervision. It is kind of like an academic accreditation. When schools go through the process, they find that they have things that are in place and others that they need to work on. Same thing here… we had many solid policies and procedures that are in full compliance. There are also some new things that we have added during the accreditation process. It was an incredibly enriching experience that helped us to make sure that the participants in our youth activities are as safe as possible. Q: What is the Legion’s view of the Dallas Charter?
A: The Dallas Charter
was the American bishop’s response to the crisis of 2002. That was a really challenging time: many Catholics were rightly concerned and wondering whether their kids were safe in church activities. The Bishops tackled the issue at their meeting in Dallas and came up with the Charter and then, based on that, the “Essential Norms
.” The main points that they stressed were the need for a much more intensely pastoral response to victims of sexual abuse, transparency and accountability. I can say that the Legion subscribes wholeheartedly to these principles. That’s precisely why we have been pursuing the Praesidium accreditation. Q: Do you have a Review Board?
A: Yes indeed. The Review Board is a requirement of the Charter and, consequently, also for accreditation. The task of the Review Board is to help an order with several outside pairs of eyes. In the event of an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor, the Review Board is there to help us look at all the different angles that a case could have, such as, has the alleged victim received a truly pastoral response?; have the rights of the accused religious been safeguarded?; has the investigation been thorough and objective? Once all the evidence is in, they also make very important recommendations to our superiors about the allegation. Our Review Board is a group of excellent, committed Catholics who offer real expertise in the area of sexual abuse, psychology and law enforcement. Q: The revelations about your founder, Fr Maciel, have disconcerted many people. What’s the Legion’s “safe environment” culture like?
A: Like everyone in our community, I feel devastated by all of this and tremendous pain for anyone who was hurt by him or by the way we handled things. There’s no doubt that we gave Fr Maciel sincere trust due to his role as founder. Perhaps that was an understandable thing for us to do during the years he was in leadership, but we now know that nobody must be exempt of accountability and that you always have to pay full attention to warning signals and any credible allegation. Nevertheless, during the revision process for the accreditation, it also became clear that the Legion as such re-enforces safe environment policies and has strong systems of support and accountability. We still know that temptations are many and so we can’t let up on the prayer and vigilance. If anything, the hard lessons we had to learn about our founder will make us work harder to keep our environments safe. Q: What are some examples of your safe environment policies?
A: We have well-defined “boundary policies” about the way we should interact with minors. For instance, while we definitely want our religious to be friendly and close to young people, except for shaking hands and that sort of thing, we have clear guidelines regarding physical touch. Another key rule is that a Legionary is never to be alone with a minor in a way that can’t be seen by others, but always has to be dealing with them in complete visibility; as well as having other adults engaged in supervising the activities. Being very transparent with parents is also hugely important. Even the architecture in the buildings we build has a very detailed code to enhance the safety, like the layout of the corridors and the visibility in offices with glass doors and hallway windows. Jesus was very emphatic about how to treat children, and we are doing our best to live up to the standard he gave us. Q: If someone has a complaint of sexual abuse by a Legionary, what should he or she do?
A: The first thing to do is to call the police or child protective services to report it, then to please contact me or one of our Territorial Directors. I can assure you that we take these matters very, very seriously. If someone has had an abusive experience with a Legionary, we absolutely need to know about it—we want to protect kids and we can’t do that if we don’t know there’s a problem. Then we have a process that we follow. The Legionary who is accused is immediately withdrawn from ministry until the allegation is resolved. After the civil authorities have finished their investigation, the Legion has its own internal investigation. The results are given to our Review Board and they make a recommendation to the Territorial Director. If he is exonerated, he is restored to ministry. However, if the allegation against the priest appears to be substantiated, the Territorial Director refers it to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith for final judgment. If judged guilty, the priest will be permanently withdrawn from ministry. I’d like to emphasize that through it all, the Legion will strive to have a pastoral response to someone bringing forward a complaint and also to the one who is accused. That can be a difficult balance, but we understand how important it is to handle these things right. If anyone has a question about safe environment policies or a complaint regarding sexual abuse of a minor by a Legionary or consecrated member of Regnum Christi, Fr Steven Reilly can be reached at Sreilly@Legionaries.org or called at 301 580 0340. His mailing address is 10211 Norton Road, Potomac, MD 20854.