Policy benchmarks developed by the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame offer seminary rectors a comprehensive means for responding to sexual harassment and misconduct. In light of recent revelations, including the forthcoming report on sexual abuse and misconduct involving former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the McGrath Institute has issued a “Call to Action” to all seminaries and houses of formation to commit to the benchmarks for the benefit of seminary culture and formation.
“Seminary culture has improved significantly since the Church’s sexual abuse crisis first came to light, but there is still room for improvement,” said John C. Cavadini, the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life. “Our research indicates we are not stuck in the past, we have been moving forward and we have the power to keep and to increase this momentum for the building up of the One Body and Spouse of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Church.”
The benchmarks respond directly to the needs articulated by seminarians in a national study commissioned by the McGrath Institute to assess sexual misconduct policies at seminaries. The five benchmarks are: 1) systematic training of seminarians, faculty and staff regarding harassment policies, 2) internal and external reporting and investigation procedures, 3) victim support, 4) periodic assessment of internal policies and 5) consistency and portability of standards to suit local conditions.
The study of seminaries sponsored by the McGrath Institute and conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that even though incidents of sexual misconduct are uncommon, there is low awareness of seminary protocols for reporting such misconduct. The study led to the formation of the McGrath Seminary Study Group, a group of bishops, seminary rectors, faculty and expert lay consultants who developed the proactive policy guidelines.
Several members of the study group offered insights on the value and timeliness of the guidelines.
“These benchmarks for seminary sexual misconduct policies are an important step towards a culture of transparency and accountability in the Church,” said Michael Brough of Leadership Roundtable. “They are also a model of co-responsibility, where laity and ordained work together to address challenges facing our Church.”
“These benchmarks for sexual misconduct policies have been put together by real experts in the field of seminary formation as well as lay leaders,” said Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “This is just the sort of collaboration we need to make sure our seminaries are safe places where vocations can flourish and where we can continue to work to eradicate the scourge of sexual abuse.”
The McGrath Institute hopes that the benchmarks will be a call to action for seminaries and houses of formation. The McGrath Seminary Study Group invites all seminaries and houses of religious formation to publicly commit to the benchmarks and to revise and update their own policies to reflect them.
“This historic, grassroots collaboration was initiated, funded and led by laity but always with the support of clergy and later of bishops. It models the co-responsibility described by Pope Emeritus Benedict and followed by Pope Francis,” said Father Ken Davis, O.F.M., prefect of formation for the Province of Our Lady of Consolation.
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