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Why We Fingerprint

You may be surprised at who’s not around your kids
By Tricia Hempel

At a recent meeting of parents of students at a local Catholic high school, the issue of volunteering — and related requirements — was raised. There was some uncertainly about whether or not people who have been volunteers in their parishes were still “cleared” to volunteer on the high school level, whether fingerprinting had to be repeated, etc.

There was a little bit of grumbling in the parental ranks, and I can understand that. When I first learned a few years back that my husband and I would have to be fingerprinted and undergo background checks in order to volunteer in any capacity that involves minors in a Catholic school or parish, my initial reaction was a little bit of indignation. I was already giving up limited free time to help out with Girl Scouts and chaperoning school trips, and here I had to jump through more hoops just to do so? Sheesh.

So when I hear other parents complain about showing up at parishes at designated times only to learn that the fingerprinting equipment is on the fritz or the required educational session has been cancelled for that evening, I understand their frustration. I’ve been there. We’re the good guys, right? We’re the ones giving up our time to help out and to watch over other people’s children (there are a lot of parents of kids I volunteer with whom I’ve never once seen in the 11 years I’ve been doing this). So why give us a hard time? And wasn’t the archdiocesan Decree on Child Protection designed to prevent clergy abuse?

When the Archdiocese of Cincinnati put into place its Child Protection policy in 1993, clergy abuse was indeed making headlines, and many dioceses across the country were looking at ways to insure that minors under the care or supervision of church programs and institutions never again had to suffer such horrors.

Since 1993, more than 81,000 local clergy, employees and volunteers who work with children have been trained in the provisions of the Child Protection Decree, which was updated as recently as last month. In addition, more than 59,000 persons who work with children on behalf of the archdiocese have been fingerprinted. I’m one of them, and many of you are as well.

But what many of you may not realize is that as a result of information learned through the fingerprinting, 263 potential volunteers or employees have been denied the opportunity to work in positions that involved contact with children.

And all were laypeople.

Not clergy or religious. Laity. Many are parents themselves. Some are professionals — doctors and lawyers. Some are people you might not have thought twice about letting your child take a ride with, or be coached by or belong to Scout troop under their supervision. Some are your neighbors. But for varied and good reasons, they cannot work with children in programs of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

My kids were both away last month with a high school program. Eldest child got a stomach bug during the week but didn’t want to come home. When she called, I asked which moms were chaperoning that night and immediately relaxed. I knew them all, and I knew they’d keep an eye on her. One male college student who works with the group tiptoed into her dorm several times that morning to check that she was sleeping and not feverish or in any distress.

As a mom, I worry a lot about my kids (just ask my husband; I’ve been known to make myself sick with worry). But knowing that the college students and adults who are around my kids have been vetted as much as it’s possible for the school/church to do eases my mind a great deal. My kids are a lot safer than I was 40 years ago — I have no doubt about that. As a society we’re all more aware of the potential for child abuse, as well as its actual symptoms; we are less trusting with our children than our parents were. And that’s okay.

So I would ask parents and other volunteers who might be new to the archdiocesan Decree on Child Protection to have some patience and understanding when schedules aren’t convenient or paperwork seems overwhelming. The new guidelines issued last month are even tougher than the ones already in place. But the fact that 263 persons who should not be working with children are not working with my children is something I try to keep in my mind when I feel like grumbling. I hope you will, too.

Tricia Hempel is the editor of The Catholic Telegraph. This “Beneath the Fold” column originally appeared in the CT dated August 1, 2008.