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Policies for Protecting Children

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington developed a Child Protection Policy in 1986 that was one of the first in the United States, and it has been updated several times since then to expand efforts to protect children. The policy has also been expanded in scope to emphasize providing safe environments for adults.

For the last four decades, the Catholic Church has been shaken by the continued revelations of sexual misconduct and abuse by members of the clergy. Though many of these offenses are decades old when revealed, the trauma experienced by survivors and their families has not lessened over time. Our own Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has recently sustained the shock of two high profile cases involving past archbishops. Archbishop Emeritus Theodore McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals and was removed from the clerical state after a Vatican investigation found credible and substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse and adult misconduct from the years before he became archbishop of Washington. Cardinal Donald Wuerl asked Pope Francis to accept his resignation after it was revealed he mishandled abuse cases when leading his previous Diocese of Pittsburgh. 

But long before those scandals, then-Archbishop James Hickey of Washington worked to install solid policies related to the protection of minors in The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. These policies were updated by staff but never directly altered by any successive archbishop. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington was one of the first in the nation to have such policies and require all staff, lay and clergy, to report suspected child abuse to civil authorities. Beginning in 1985, the archdiocese’s in-house counsel, Paul Interdonato, worked with Msgr. William Kane to formulate the new policy. The policy was sent to others to review including Dominican Father Thomas Doyle, J.C.D, when he was still on the staff of the Apostolic Nunciature.  

The new policy promulgated in 1986 was largely a reporting policy, meaning that its primary object was to establish procedures for when, what, and to whom to report allegations of abuse or misconduct.  The policy outlined exact procedures for reporting and which civil authorities, whether law enforcement or child protective services, were to receive that report. The policy was very clear everyone who was told of abuse had to report it. Everyone who worked with children was a mandatory reporter.  

Though the policy itself was limited in scope, the archdiocese began other measures to educate staff about issues related to child protection. Beginning in 1986, they held training sessions for clergy and staff who worked directly with children. The training was designed to instruct everyone about this issue and the reporting procedures. The Archives of the archdiocese holds the original sign-in sheets from these training sessions.  

The policy was re-issued in a more robust form in 1993. The new policy not only discussed reporting but also how to handle reported abuse, codifying procedures that had been put in place in the previous seven years. Exact steps were laid out if either a lay employee or a member of the clergy was accused of abuse. The policy created the Case Review Board, which still exists today. In 1993, the Case Review Board consisted of a lay psychologist or psychiatrist, a lay social worker, a lawyer who did not represent the archdiocese, five other lay representative from around the archdiocese who were not staff and one priest. The purpose of the board was and is today to review evidence in cases of misconduct and make recommendations to the archbishop. Cardinal Hickey sent a letter explaining the guidance within the new policy to all priests. He stated unequivocally that if a member of the clergy was accused, he would be immediately suspended from ministry.   

The 1993 policy also required staff training to be annual and mandatory. More training had begun in 1991 and continued each year for both clergy and lay staff. The policy called for background checks for new staff in some but not all cases. It also required clergy from other dioceses or religious communities to present letters from their superiors stating that the person had no history that made them unable to work with minors. Finally, this version of the policy laid out guidelines for the pastoral care and treatment of survivors. It created a team that was assigned to provide this care led by the archdiocese’s Secretary of Parish, Life and Worship and the Secretary of Education.  

The next update was issued in 1999 but, it was largely the same policy as the 1993 policy with only one big change. It now required all staff who worked with children – lay, clergy, or volunteer – to go through a criminal background check.  The Archdiocesan Archives holds dozens of boxes of paper background check records for the hundreds of people who worked with children in the archdiocese at this period.  

In 2002 as it had been in the mid-1980s, the Church was again rocked by allegations of sexual abuse by clergy headlining newspapers throughout the United States. In the 1980s the press cycle had begun in Louisiana, but in 2002 it was centered in the Archdiocese of Boston. In the 1980s the bishops of the United States had not come out with a cohesive plan to deal with the issue of abuse, which is why so few dioceses at that time created policies.  But under the leadership of then-Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Illinois, then the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People | USCCB) was affirmed at the bishops’ June 2002 meeting in Dallas. The Dallas charter provided guidance to dioceses on creating a safe environment for children and young people, healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors, making prompt and effective responses to allegations, cooperating with civil authorities, disciplining offenders, and providing accountability. In response to the Dallas charter, many dioceses implemented new policies.  

In response to the Dallas charter, The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington once again updated its existing policy. One major change was to implement the creation of an independent Office of Child Protection headed by a clinical social worker who would report allegations and assist survivors and their families.  The first person to hold this position in the archdiocese was Marcy Zvara. Today the position is held by Courtney Chase, LCSW-C, LICSW.  The 2003 policy also created the Child Protection Advisory Board, which oversees the implementation of the policy and the Office of Child Protection, assesses the effectiveness of the policy, and advises the archbishop on these issues. 

The policy is now updated about every five years. The Child Protection Advisory Board meets four times per year with the archbishop to work on these issues. Every employee, clergy or lay and all volunteers who work with or around children must be fingerprinted and have a background check completed. All fingerprints are put into IAFIS, the FBI finger print database, and monitored 24/7. In addition, every year The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington participates in the child protection audits that were established by the Dallas charter and conducted by the USCCB.   The archdiocese has published a list of credibly accused clergy on its website: Clergy Credibly Accused of Sexual Abuse of Minors - Archdiocese of Washington (  The Office of Child Protection is now the Office of Child Protection and Safe Environment with an expanded role to oversee and manage allegations of misconduct and abuse related to adults.  The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has come a long way, but we have more work to do.  Our current staff and board work hard to continually find ways to improve what we do.   

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment can be reached by calling 301-853-5328 or via email at The 2019 edition of the Child Protection and Safe Environment Policy can be found here: Child Protection & Safe Environment - Archdiocese of Washington (

(Dr. Jacobe serves as the director of the Archives for the Archdiocese of Washington.)