This is an article to help increase the understanding of co-responsibility in the Church.
Patricia Joyce brings an unusual skill set to her role as chair of the Diocesan Review Board.
She previously served for 12 years as a county prosecutor, 15 years as a juvenile judge, and 14 years as a presiding circuit judge.
“I’ve certainly had extensive experience dealing with the issues and understanding them,” said Mrs. Joyce, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish in Jefferson City.
The Diocesan Review Board is a confidential, consultative body that helps Bishop W. Shawn McKnight.
It advises him on policies and responses to allegations of violations of the diocese’s Code of Pastoral Conduct, the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms which augment the Charter.
In doing so, it plays a crucial role in the diocese’s efforts make sure the Church is a consistently safe environment for children and anyone else who’s vulnerable.
“Knowing that the best decisions are being made is critical to people’s faith in the Church and ultimately their faith in God,” Mrs. Joyce observed.
Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos established the Diocesan Review Board in 2003, in keeping with the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People.
Mrs. Joyce noted that some terrible decisions had been made in the past by people who thought they were doing what was best for the Church.
“It damages people’s trust to see how some things were handled,” she stated. “It helps people’s confidence to know that the best work is now being done in this area.”
A thorough process
The Diocesan Review Board brings a wide range of experience and expertise to matters of safety and justice.
Whenever someone reports having been abused or engaged in inappropriate conduct by a member of the clergy or an employee of the Church — whether recently or long ago — the diocesan victims assistance coordinator listens carefully to that person and prepares a detailed report to present to the bishop.
Additional information may come from law-enforcement, in addition to a thorough internal investigation.
The bishop then convenes the Diocesan Review Board, whose members then study the report, discuss it and possibly seek additional information.
The board’s members include attorneys, counselors, educators, pastoral ministers, pediatricians and psychiatrists, people from the criminal justice, human resources, law enforcement and social services professions, as well as a priest, a deacon and a religious sister.
Once any members’ questions are answered, the board works toward a recommendation on whether the allegation of abuse should be deemed credible under the directives of the Charter.
“We can ask for further investigation if something needs to be filled in, and then we make a recommendation about what we believe the bishop should do,” said Mrs. Joyce.
Before deliberating, board members disclose to the others any friendships or past dealings they’ve had with the accused, and excuse themselves from the discussion if necessary.
“The last thing you want to do is let some bias or prejudice come into your decision-making,” said Mrs. Joyce.
The bishop takes the board’s guidance into account when deciding the next step, also in keeping with the Charter.
“We are an advisory board,” Mrs. Joyce noted. “As is the case with all advisory boards, the bishop makes the final decision.”
She said Bishop McKnight “listens very carefully and attentively to what we tell him.”
The Review Board also has two regularly scheduled meetings per year, during which members review and make recommendations to the bishop about policies and procedures for maintaining safe environments throughout the Church for children and vulnerable adults.
The board also gets updated on how past recommendations have been acted upon.
Mrs. Joyce noted that all of these meetings begin with prayer.
Bishop McKnight said he values the board’s insights.
“Their professional expertise, as well as their perspective as faith-filled people who know the importance of our Church, guide me in my decision-making,” he stated.
Mrs. Joyce said she’s impressed with the quality and professional backgrounds of her fellow Review Board members.
“It seems to me that every person who would come into contact with children from birth to age 20 is represented on the board,” she said.
She volunteered to serve on the board in 2022, after retiring as the Cole County presiding circuit judge.
“I saw a notice about it in our parish bulletin,” she said. “I thought about it and realized that there aren’t many people who have my background and experience.
“I tried sexual-abuse cases when I was a prosecutor and presided over them as a juvenile judge,” she noted. “In 26 years on the bench, I presided over quite a few cases of abuse, as well as many for disciplining and firing employees.”
She also served as a facilitator for the Protecting God’s Children training for Church employees and volunteers in the diocese.
“So, I figured that my experience could be valuable, and it seemed like an important role that I could help with,” she said.
Bishop McKnight contacted her and asked her to serve as the board’s chairperson.
Mrs. Joyce understands her responsibility in that as being “to help make sure the bishop has the full benefit of the experience of the board and its members, to make the right decisions regarding the protection of children.”
“It can be uncomfortable to hear about some of these things,” she noted. “But we have to do our best to give him the benefit of our experience so he can make the right decision.”
She enjoys having in-depth discussions with fellow board members in a nonconfrontational forum, confident that everyone there is seeking what’s just and true.
She noted that most people generally don’t like conflict or ambiguity.
“They want it to be simple and cut-and-dried,” she said. “But when you study law and put it into practice, you know that the facts come out when both sides are presented.”
Although the Review Board’s work can be unpleasant, Mrs. Joyce finds consolation in it being necessary and making a real difference.
She’s accustomed to keeping things in perspective.
“That’s what 40 years of practicing law does for you,” she stated.
She looks for every opportunity to see the good in people.
“As a lifelong practicing Catholic, there have been so many people who enhanced my faith life,” she said. “You can’t let the bad things taint your relationship with God.”
Mrs. Joyce asked for prayers for wisdom and good judgement for the entire Diocesan Review Board, as well as Bishop McKnight and all who play a part in creating safe environments and protecting vulnerable people in the Church.
“You do your best job and pray for wisdom and to make the best decisions,” she said.
“I’m glad the bishop is able to use me,” she stated. “And I’m glad to be able to serve the community.”