Changes in language to clarify several sections of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” were approved during the spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The changes are the first since 2011 as the work to update the document took several years to wind through the review process established by the bishops.
The bishops voted 185-5 with one abstention June 14 to enact the changes.
A day earlier, Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, presented the changes, saying the they will strengthen protections for young people.
Among the changes approved is a provision that the review will occur every seven years instead of every two years.
Deacon Bernard Nojadera, executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, told Catholic News Service that the change was made to reflect more accurately how long it takes for legal and canonical review of language to be completed.
While the review that led to the changes adopted by the bishops began in 2013, it took five years to complete because of questions that kept arising as the process continued, he said.
One change, in the charter’s conclusion, finds the review of the document occurring every seven years rather than every two years. Deacon Nojadera said the change reflects the reality of the length and thoroughness of the review process.
“The motivation behind all this is we want to make sure children are safe, period,” Deacon Nojadera said. “The bishops are making a statement that our churches, our parishes, are safe environments. Well, we need to back that up.”
The changes generally tighten requirements for all individuals working with children and add wording to individual articles of the charter or clarify terms used in the document.
Recognizing the explosive growth in digital platform use since the charter was adopted, a change in Article 2 adds a provision that dioceses will establish ways that digital media can be used to accept abuse allegations.
Article 4 inserts the clause “with due regard for the seal of the sacrament of penance” in describing the requirement to report an abuse allegation to civil authorities.
Bishop Doherty told the general assembly that the clause was added because of recent challenges to the inviolability of the seal of confession.
Wording in Articles 6 and 12 was changed to clarify that all people who have contact with minors will abide by standards of behavior and appropriate boundaries. The previous language listed clergy, paid personnel and volunteers as those who must abide by such standards and boundaries.
A change in Article 9 adds wording that defines the method and the scope of the annual audit each diocese undergoes to determine compliance with the charter.
The new language defines the audit method as the process and techniques used and the audit scope describes the “focus, parameters and time period” covered during an individual audit.
A sentence is being added to Article 10 at the suggestion of the National Review Board to emphasize that board members continue to monitor the recommendations of the “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.”
The study, undertaken by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, examined the reasons for clergy sexual abuse. It was commissioned by the lay-led National Review Board and not by the bishops.
New language in Article 13 clarifies the process for obtaining letters of suitability for ministry for a priest or deacon not incardinated in a diocese or eparchy who is ministering in the diocese or eparchy. It states that such a letter can be supplied by an appropriate ordinary bishop or religious superior.
Finally, Article 17 adds deacons to the commitment of diocese to strengthen formation programs.