Ethics and Integrity in Ministry: Diocesan safe environment workshop continues to evolve

By Emily Hurlimann
Guest Columnist

Fifteen years ago the Diocese of Austin began educating clergy, religious women and men, diocesan employees, Catholic School personnel, catechists and other volunteers that worked with minors in our diocese about the prevention of sexual abuse of children and youth in our churches and schools. The training included explaining what sexual abuse is, warning signs to watch for in children who may have been abused, what to do if abuse is suspected, and the steps the church would take to help prevent abuse. Policies outlining screening procedures, appropriate interactions, prohibited behaviors and reporting requirements were provided at these trainings. This was the beginning of Ethics and Integrity in Ministry (EIM), the safe environment/youth protection program of the Diocese of Austin. 
In January 2002, as we began learning about the extent of the scandal of the abuse of minors in the Catholic Church, news stories around the country recounted stories of victim survivors, naming the clergy accused of perpetrating these crimes and the dioceses accused of not doing enough to prevent them. By summer 2002, the bishops of the country were compelled to act and at their annual June meeting they adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” This document required the following from bishops and dioceses throughout the country to reach out to victim survivors, to establish policies and procedures to respond promptly to allegations, to establish a review board, to report allegations to civil authorities, to publish standards of ministry, to remove clergy from ministry who have abused, and to do background checks on and provide training for all who serve in ministry with minors
Since then, more than 60,000 women and men in the Diocese of Austin have completed the EIM Application and attended one or more EIM training workshops. Over time the EIM Policies, developed by the bishop’s advisory EIM Review Board, expanded to include the protection of vulnerable adults, became applicable to additional ministries, and required that the training be “renewed” every three years. The EIM workshop program evolved as we used new training materials and added the “refresher” requirement, but overall much of the information being taught in workshops today is not significantly different from what was created in the early 2000s, and is still used by most dioceses throughout the country. 
A great deal has been learned about the “science” of child sexual abuse prevention in the last 15 years, and that, along with requests for an updated training program, has led to some changes to our EIM education workshops. Starting this 2016-17 school year, we will use a program being created here in our diocese. It begins with a historical perspective of abuse in the church as we hear about the experience of abuse in the stories of a survivor of abuse by a priest in the 1960s, and of a family who is still working through the aftermath of the abuse of their child by a family friend. In the second part we will learn the skills of prevention and responding: recognizing the patterns of grooming, understanding online safety, interrupting boundary violations, and responding to warning signs and disclosures. 
To ensure that everyone receives the information provided in this new training program, whether they’ve sat through multiple EIM workshops in the past, or this is their first one, everyone who needs to be EIM compliant will attend the same EIM workshop. It will be an in-person training but as we are creating this new program we will be developing “additional education” components which will eventually be used as Refresher modules, with a plan for both an in-person and online option. 
One thing that will not change is the requirement that all persons who serve in any ministry that requires EIM compliance must complete the EIM Application for Ministry (one time only, though). This application permits the diocese to run a background check and creates the applicant’s EIM account where they can access the list of workshops and sign up to attend one; this is where each applicant’s workshop history is stored. The reason the list of workshops is only available through the EIM account is to ensure that every adult who serves in a ministry that requires EIM compliance has an EIM account; in some cases workshop history was lost because the attendee never submitted an application. This requirement also ensures that everyone who works with children, and everyone with whom we serve in ministry, has had a background check and has attended an EIM workshop. Those who do not have access to the Internet should contact their parish or school EIM site administrator to assist them in completing the application process using a paper application and in signing up for an EIM workshop.
As we approach the 15th anniversary of this important work of protecting minors, vulnerable persons and our church, we express our gratitude to the many women and men who have created these training and screening programs, the amazing volunteer facilitators who have taught thousands of workshops throughout the diocese, the clergy and church personnel who continue to implement and monitor EIM compliance at our parishes and schools, and the many tens of thousands of people who have taken the time to learn about this important topic of the prevention of child sexual abuse. If by teaching or learning this information we prevent only one case of abuse, we will have had a life-changing effect on that child, their family, and on their future. May God continue to bless the people of the Diocese of Austin.