Diocese Adopts New Code of Conduct

By Greg Livadas
Gannett News Service, carried in The Ithaca Journal [Rochester NY]
Downloaded May 31, 2003

ROCHESTER -- The Roman Catholic Diocese on Friday unveiled a new pastoral code of conduct for its priests, other employees and volunteers intended to prevent inappropriate behavior with minors or vulnerable adults.

The new policy includes requiring those who work with young people to attend a two-hour workshop and be subjected to criminal background checks. That is in addition to guidelines previously established in a diocesan employee handbook, said Bishop Matthew Clark.

The Rochester diocese includes Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Since April 2002, seven priests in the Rochester diocese have been suspended or removed from active ministry because of credible complaints of child sexual abuse. Those incidents were from years earlier, officials said. Many other allegations of abuse have been publicized in recent years around the country.

The 10-page code relates to interactions with children, youth and vulnerable adults.

The Rev. Daniel Condon, diocesan chancellor, said the new code would apply to 3,500 people in the diocese, including clergy, teachers and volunteers.

Employees and volunteers are required to sign the code, saying they understand it.

In doing so, they admit they are aware they:

Must uphold Christian values and professional standards of conduct.

Should refrain from physical and mental abuse, racial insults, ethnic slurs, sexual advances, touching and sexual jokes or comments.

Must not use alcohol or illegal drugs when working with youths.

Cannot provide shared or private housing, including a church-owned facility, private residence or hotel room.

Are called to chastity if baptized.

Should disclose when a conflict of interest could arise.

May not give gifts worth more than $25 on behalf of their institution or accept gifts that are expensive from vendors without reporting them to supervisors.

Must report indications of illegal activities to a supervisor and the diocese.

The code has already been distributed to parishes and school leaders throughout the 12-county diocese.

A Bishop's Advisory Board, which usually meets monthly, was also established a year ago.

All diocesan employees since 1993 have taken a mandatory six-hour session on abuse, harassment and exploitation. In addition, a two-hour workshop to discuss the new policies will need to be taken.

"It's a change in a relationship of trust," Condon said. Any problems uncovered in the background checks, he said, would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Violations to the code could range from verbal reprimands to dismissal, Clark said.

Ronald Benjamin, a Binghamton lawyer who represents altar boys who claimed they were abused by priests 35 years ago, knew the diocese needed to make changes to prevent further abuses.

"They should have had it a long time ago. You would not have had all this cover up," he said. "I think this will help in the future, but do more than simply publishing the code and putting it in some file."

Although one of his lawsuits was thrown out, others involving allegations of sexual abuse are pending in Tioga, Broome and Oneida counties.

"I certainly would like to see more concern for the victims rather than the due process rights for the perpetrators," Benjamin said. "That's an issue that's still out there."

Clark said he welcomes anyone who may have been hurt by inappropriate behavior by a priest "to contact us so that we may be able to provide assistance."

"I believe that these new measures truly protect (the vulnerable) by minimizing the risk of future incidents."


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