The challenge facing all members of the Church has become increasingly clear in the weeks since the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report of clergy sexual abuse of minors. To promote transparency so that those in Jesuit works can have confidence in the processes that the Province has in place, Fr. Provincial Ronald A. Mercier sent a letter to the directors of all the works in the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province addressing questions about the province’s policies and practices designed to prevent and respond to inappropriate actions by members of the province.
Not every question can be answered in this way, but what follows addresses the most common questions. The province’s Safe Environment Policies and Procedures can be viewed here.
Has the province sought guidance from an independent organization that specializes in the prevention of abuse to ensure that its practices are consistent with today’s standards relating to child protection?
In a word, yes. This province is accredited by Praesidium, an independent firm that advises organizations regarding the prevention of sexual abuse. In addition to religious organizations, Praesidium works with other groups such as Google and the Salvation Army. Accreditation is a rigorous process, and the province has achieved it for many years. Additional information is posted elsewhere on this site.
What steps has the province taken to ensure that those who apply to become a member of the Society of Jesus are suitable for ministry?
The Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) has outlined standards for screening new candidates for membership. This province adheres to and, in some areas, goes beyond these standards.
For each candidate, we require the following:
- A completed criminal background check including every state/county where the candidate has resided in the last seven years.
- A completed national sex offender registry check.
- A minimum of six references, with at least three personal references (including at least one from a family member) and two professional references.
- Four face-to-face interviews with Jesuits and, in most cases, an additional interview with a lay colleague of ours or a woman religious who has worked with Jesuits. The only exception to this has been when a candidate has worked in one of our institutions and is well-known by and attested to by lay colleagues through the letters of reference. One of these interviews is performed by a Jesuit who has received specific training in the assessment of candidates. This interview goes into great detail about the candidate’s sexual history and family background.
- A psychological evaluation and psycho-sexual history conducted by a licensed psychologist or a licensed mental health professional with skills in conducting psycho-sexual histories and assessing psycho-sexual health in preparation for a life of celibate chastity.
- A review of publicly accessible content on all social media, personal blog sites and web sites associated with accounts controlled by the Candidate.
Additionally, vocation directors and formation directors are provided with education to assist in identifying any candidate who may be at risk to sexually abuse a minor.
What training does a member of the province receive regarding the province’s Safe Environment Program?
Every member of the province completes two units of Praesidium-approved basic training (similar to Protecting God’s Children) and signs the province’s Code of Ethical Conduct.
Also, every year, all members of the province renew their training by participating in “Conversations that Matter,” a program mandated by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, designed to foster within Jesuits a deeper understanding of healthy relationships and awareness of appropriate boundaries.
If a person has been abused by a member of the province, how do they make a report?
Any person who has been abused by a member of the province is encouraged to contact our Coordinator of Pastoral Outreach, Carol Brescia. Ms. Brescia is a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with persons suffering trauma. Ms. Brescia can be reached confidentially by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (314) 915-7168.
After receiving a report of abuse, the province complies with applicable state child abuse reporting laws to ensure that appropriate child protection agencies are notified. Additionally, persons reporting abuse to the province are reminded of their right to contact law enforcement.
All reports of abuse are presented to a Review Board, made up of Jesuit and lay members with experience in law enforcement, psychology, pediatrics, law and social work. A primary role of the Review Board is to assure that all policies and appropriate procedures, including the informing of law enforcement, have been followed in each case and that each report has been responded to appropriately.
What actions does the province take when a report of abuse of a minor involving a member of the province is found to be credible?
Reports of abuse of a minor that have been found to be credible generally result in two actions:
1. offering assistance to the person who has been harmed
2. removal of the member from public ministry and assignment to an appropriate residence.
The provincial initiates the process – referral to the superior general and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – that will permanently remove the Jesuit from public ministry.
Does the province work with law enforcement to investigate reports of abuse?
The province reports to appropriate child protection agencies, as required by applicable state law. Additionally, the province cooperates with law enforcement regarding investigations undertaken by law enforcement. This has always been our commitment and continues to be so today.