Meet those who care for victims of abuse

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, February 9, 2014

Jan Slattery, director of the archdiocese’s Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, speaks during a press conference on Jan 15 at the Archbishop Quigley Center. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

When Jan Slattery was first asked to head up the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Protection of Children and Youth in 2003 she said no.

She was working for the archdiocese in higher-education ministry and had attended the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting in a Dallas hotel the year before, when the group adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

“The pall over the hotel was unbelievable,” she said. “So when this approach was made I said, ‘I don’t think so.’”

However, she thought it over and when Cardinal George approached her about the position a second time she said yes.

“In our own lives we have a family of six and we had been foster parents for 15 years. Our lives had been about children,” Slattery told the Catholic New World. “So the more I thought about it, I realized perhaps we could have a long-term impact on the broader population in the safety of children and the quality of their lives.”

The Office for the Protection of Children and Youth formed in 2003 to implement the bishops’ charter and includes the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review, the Office of Assistance Ministry, Safe Environment Office and the Prayer and Penance Program.

When Slattery started the office her main task was to put in place all of the programs of the charter, including the background checks and a code of conduct. The Offices of Assistance Ministry and Child Abuse Investigations and Review already existed independently. Slattery united them under one umbrella

Bringing everything together made the office more effective, Slattery said. They have access to each other and are cross-trained to be able to respond to callers and inquiries and understand all of the legal requirements that go along with the charter and reporting abuse.

“It’s been a very good move to bring everything into one place,” Slattery said.

The recent release of more than 6,000 pages of documents related to cases involving 30 priests accused of sexual abuse has the office’s phone ringing “constantly now,” Slattery said.

“Victims are calling who have already been assisted through this office. It has surfaced things in them. People who called before but never followed through the process are now calling back. It’s resurfaced all kinds of things for them,” she said.

Slattery noted that the files that were released relate to abuse that happened before 1988.

“What has happened is egregious. There’s no explaining what has happened. Sexual abuse of a child is a crime. It has always been a crime,” she said.

Things are done differently today, she said.

“I would say that since 1992 things have gone forward in a very different manner,” she said.

In 1991, Cardinal Bernardin commissioned a group of people to look at the problem of clergy sexual abuse and policies and procedures were developed and implemented. “I think the realization of what this is [clergy sexual abuse] has really been acted upon intentionally since 1992 very clearly in this archdiocese,” she said

In 1992 the archdiocese’s Office for Assistance Ministry opened and is one of the oldest of its kind in the country. After the bishops’ charter was adopted in 2002 with zero tolerance for abuse, things changed some more. The stakes were higher and the role of the Review Board changed. Actions became more decisive and the investigative process was ramped up, she said.

The office doesn’t just focus on clergy. Allegations against any lay person who works or volunteers for the archdiocese are also investigated and addressed by the office.

“We certainly have seen a decline in the cases of cleric sexual abuse. We are receiving allegations of abuse against employees and volunteers who work with children,” she said

To anyone who asks if their children are safe in the archdiocese’s schools or parishes, Slattery says yes.

“In our schools and parishes right now, anyone working with them has been vetted; they’ve had background checks; they’ve gone through the training to recognize abuse and how to prevent abuse; they’re held accountable in the sense of a code of conduct and behavioral guidelines that they are expected to follow when working with any children, young people or adolescents,” Slattery explained. “I think we’ve really put into place a web that a large volume of people now participate in and I think it’s hard to get through that web.”

Since 2003, the office has trained 160,000 priests, deacons, lay employees and volunteers in Cook and Lake Counties to recognize and prevent abuse and conducted background checks on these groups.

More than 200,000 children have been trained to pay attention when something doesn’t feel right, report it to an adult and get out of the situation.

“We have examples of children who have put that into practice,” she said. “We’re serious about keeping this a safe network for children.”


  • child abuse prevention

Related Articles