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April 28, 2021

By Darcy Fargo

OGDENSBURG – Though the format of the compliance audits has changed, the Diocese of Ogdensburg Safe Environment office is confident the diocese is complying with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and working hard to protect children.

Working with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and companies with which USCCB contracts for auditing, the Safe Environment efforts every diocese in the United States are reviewed annually.

“This year, we have an on-site audit,” explained John Morrison, diocesan director of Safe Environment and coordinator of Charter Compliance. “On-site audits are every three years. In the two years in between, they conduct what are referred to as ‘data-collection audits.’ In the data-collection audits, they ask us to collect similar information for reporting, but they’re not here reviewing the supporting paperwork and documentation.”

Previously, the on-site audit reviewed compliance for only one year. This year, the on-site audit will include the two previous years, as well.

“July 1 to June 30 is our audit year,” Morrison said. “So instead of covering the period of July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, this year’s on-site audit will also cover the two preceding years.”

The on-site audit will take place likely in late summer or early fall.

“We’re tentatively scheduled for late August or early September,” Morrison said. “But the actual date will be confirmed about 45 days in advance.”

In addition to the time period covered by the audit changing, the “audit instrument,” a questionnaire the diocese is asked to complete to report its Safe Environment compliance efforts, has also changed.

“Now the questions cover a three-year period,” Morrison noted. “And some of the questions have changed, as well.”

As part of the efforts to ensure diocesan compliance with the Charter, the audit team also reviews three parishes and one school at each in-person audit.

“whether they do school and parish visits are at the bishop’s discretion,” Morrison said. “Our bishop opted to do that. Those reviews are typically done on the second day of the three-day audit.”

Morrison noted, though, that “in-person,” may not necessarily mean the auditors visit each site.

“Because of the size of our diocese, they may do that review remotely,” Morrison said. “They prefer not to drive more than an hour from the main audit location, which is the Chancery here in Ogdensburg in our case.”

Though this is the first year with the new audit procedures and new audit instrument, Morrison said he is confident the diocese will be found to be in compliance with the Charter in its upcoming audit.

“It’s not just the first year we’re seeing this audit process and audit instrument; it’s the first year it’s being used,” Morrison said. “We’re guinea pigs in some respects. Even with the changes, I’m confident people we know are involved in their parishes, schools and the diocese are in compliance.”

Morrison said he feels the diocese and its entities are working hard to protect young people from abuse.

“We continue to do compliance reviews with schools and parishes on an annual basis,” he said. “Those reviews simulate the on-site audits. We also meet with schools, pastors and (directors of religious education) to help them ensure they’re in compliance. There have definitely been challenges in this pandemic year, but we’ve seen people getting creative and developing ways to ensure their programs can continue and be in compliance with the Charter in a tough year.”

Morrison said his office works to serve as a resource to diocesan parishes, schools and organizations.

“Most (directors of religious education), pastors and schools know we want to work with them and help ensure they’re in compliance and doing everything the right way,” Morrison said. “We want them to know they can call our office and know they’ll get good answers, and we’ll work with them to help them reach their goals while also protecting kids.”

To learn more about the diocesan Safe Environment Office, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the diocesan Youth and Child Protection Policy, visit rcdony.org/safe-environment.


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