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By Elder Samaniego and Deacon Octavio Echeverria

“Our Lord Jesus Christ calls every believer to be a shining example of virtue, integrity and holiness. All of us, in fact, are called to give concrete witness of faith in Christ in our lives and, in particular, in our relationship with others.” - Pope Francis (Apostolic Letter - Vos Estis Lux Mundi)

April has been designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States since 1983. It is an annual observance dedicated to raising awareness and preventing child abuse. It’s a month where we are called to emphasize the care and protection through our active roles as parents, family and community members, clergy, teachers, catechists, youth ministers, and other adults involved with the formation and care in the accompaniment of minors. We cannot do this alone. We must work together as one Body of Christ; we must be compassionate. There is a proverb that says: “It takes a village to raise a child,” but it also takes a village - a community - to protect and care for a child.

In 2002, the Catholic Church in the U.S. experienced a crisis without recent precedent. Facing hundreds of allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors, the U.S. Bishops were urged to responsibly address the scandalous issue and acknowledged their mistakes and roles in the suffering of clergy abuse victims and their families. That same year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) drafted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as a response. This Charter included procedures for the implementation of a consistent, comprehensive, and on-going approach to creating a safe environment for children and young people throughout the Church in the United States. Some of the steps, to name a few, contain articles pertaining to: 1) a compassionate response to victims; 2) reporting of abuse allegations to the public authorities; 3) creation and implementation of local diocesan safe environment policies; 4) transparency; 5) accountability. Part of the accountability pledged in the Charter includes annual Charter Compliance Audits for Catholic dioceses in the U.S. Since 2003, the Diocese of San Bernardino has been in full compliance in every annual Charter Compliance Audit.

Through the diligent work and ongoing collaboration of many people, our Diocese has successfully trained and background-checked thousands of priests, deacons, candidates for Ordination, educators, employees, volunteers, minors, and parents. This success has led to the protection of our children and youth, and vulnerable adults, throughout our Diocese. We compassionately respond to victims of abuse through a Victims Assistance Coordinator and the “Restoring Me” retreat ministry, which helps survivors of all types of abuse heal from their spiritual and moral wounds.

When Safe Environment is discussed within our Diocese, we must mention Sister Cathy White, S.P. (+), a pioneer in child abuse prevention in our Diocese. Sr. Cathy came to our diocese in 2006, first working in the Office of Human Resources. In 2007, Sr. Cathy was hired as the first Director for the Office of Child and Youth Protection, a ministry previously coordinated by Deacon Michael Jelley. Sr. Cathy, being a teacher and highly experienced in children’s education, took the lead in the implementation of Safe Environment policy making and training, including background checks, database upkeep, accountability, transparency, and responding to victims. She left no stone unturned to perform her ministry and provide safety and wellness to children. In 2018, Sr. Cathy and her Office were honored by Bishop Gerald Barnes with the “Amár es Entregarse” Award. That same year, Sr. Cathy retired to the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence in Our Lady of the Woods, Indiana. On January 21, 2021, she was called to heaven after a battle with COVID-19.

In this Year of St. Joseph, among the variety of prayers to his devotion, we wish to invoke the litany of St. Joseph, particularly the verse, “St. Joseph, Diligent protector of Christ.” In his special role in the story of our salvation, St. Joseph was called by God through his vocation and paternal nature to protect Christ. Let us invoke St. Joseph, through the merit of Jesus’ faithful obedience to His Father, as our protector and the protector of our children. Amen.

Elder Samaniego is the Director of the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection. Deacon Octavio Echeverria is the Associate Director of the Office.