As Christians, we know that God’s image in each person, and God’s call to holiness form the basis for human dignity. Our duty is to protect this human dignity, especially in the most vulnerable among us, our children. It is essential that they find a safe environment in our homes, in our schools, in our worship communities, and in the general community. Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a criminal act, which causes enormous pain, anger, and confusion. In order to protect the children and young people of the Diocese of Savannah from such abuse on the part of personnel acting in the name of the Diocese, this policy addresses the need for prevention, reporting and investigation of allegations of sexual abuse of minors. It endeavors to provide a means of outreach to those who have been abused and the communities who are harmed by the abuse.
Savannah Diocesan efforts for prevention will focus on screening and education.
Anyone sexually abused as a minor or who knows about a case of sexual abuse of a minor should immediately report it to the civil authorities. When such sexual abuse has been committed by a cleric, religious, seminarian, diocesan or parish employee or a diocesan or parish volunteer it also should be reported to the Bishop of Savannah through the Victims Assistance Hotline at 888-357-5330. Reporting can be made at any hour of the day. In the State of Georgia, persons who, in good faith, report incidents of suspected or known child abuse are exempted from civil or criminal liability. (Ga. Code 19-7-5)
The Diocese/parish will cooperate with investigations by appropriate civil authorities. In addition, all cases of sexual abuse of a minor committed by Diocesan/parish personnel will be investigated by the Diocese in order to provide the Bishop with the necessary information to determine the appropriate course of action. Every effort will be made to maintain confidentiality so as to protect the rights of all parties concerned.
The Diocesan response to both victim and alleged offender will be to pursue justice with tenacity while also pursuing mercy with love and compassion.
When sexual abuse by a priest or a deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate investigation in accord with canon law, the offender will be removed from ministry using appropriate processes. For non-clerical personnel, when sexual abuse is admitted or established after an appropriate investigation in accord with civil or canon law, the offender will be removed from any position within the Diocese.
The Bishop is assisted throughout this process by the Advisory Board for the Protection of Children, which is composed predominantly of lay professionals not employed by the Diocese who have been appointed by the Bishop in a consultative and advisory capacity. This Board will regularly review diocesan policy and procedures, which deal with the sexual abuse of minors.
Pray for us.