The Sisters of the Order of St. Dominic, American Congregation of the Holy Cross, Amityville, New York respect the dignity of all persons. The mission and identity of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Dominic are rooted in Gospel values. The Congregation continues today the legacy of its founders, through diverse ministries, all of which bring our Sisters into daily contact with adults, young people and children. The core values of the Congregation call each sister to a deep reverence and respect for each person to whom and with whom she ministers.
In keeping with this mission, the Congregation acknowledges the very serious nature of all forms of inappropriate conduct toward anyone entrusted to our care. Therefore, as a Congregation, we affirmatively state that any sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults is unacceptable conduct.
The Sisters of St. Dominic, therefore, adopt this policy to protect potential victims of sexual abuse to the fullest extent possible. Sexual abuse is not in keeping with the Gospel, and is not within the scope of religious life or ministry, and is not permitted or condoned in any manner.
The following policy and guidelines are intended to assist the Congregation by creating the framework that keeps paramount the central concerns of love and compassion for the victim and fairness to the accused. At the same time, we recognize that the existence of unusual, unique, exigent or particular circumstances may necessitate action different from that stated in the guidelines.
The policy and guidelines are not intended to create any rights in any person, to obligate the Congregation to act at any time or in any manner, or to establish any responsibility of the Sisters of St. Dominic. In addition, there may be cases where the tenets of the Catholic religion, the prescriptions of canon law, or the greater good of all concerned require that action at variance with the provisions of these policies and guidelines be taken.
II. POLICY STATEMENT
As Sisters of the Order of St. Dominic, American Congregation of the Holy Cross, Amityville, New York, we are committed to responding to all allegations of sexual abuse and to protecting the rights of and providing pastoral support for all concerned. To the degree possible, confidentiality will be respected on behalf of both the alleged victim and the accused. Allegations will be responded to immediately and necessary notifications will take place in a timely manner.
A. Scope of Policy
- Morally inappropriate conduct would include but not be limited to sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. The Prioress and her designee will determine whether conduct is covered by the policy and guidelines.
- This policy applies specifically to allegations of sexual abuse.
- This policy applies to all Sisters currently in the Congregation who have taken vows, including those who have taken temporary vows, novices, and candidates who are currently living in Congregation. The policy does not cover associates, anyone who has been dispensed from vows, or anyone who has been through the process of exclaustration for more than three (3) years.
B. Definition of Terms
- Sex Abuse
Sexual Abuse occurs when a person violates the applicable penal law, criminal code or other state law provisions regarding sexual crimes or violations. Categories of sexual abuse may include behavior such as the following: incest, pedophilia, molestation, exploitation, statutory rape, rape. In general, sexual abuse is criminal. Sexual abuse of a minor must be reported to law enforcement officials and/child protective agencies. Confidentiality in these cases does not apply.
Under obscenity laws in the state of New York, a "minor" is defined as any person less than seventeen years old. Pursuant to certain Penal Law provisions in New York state, conduct constituting criminal sexual abuse of a minor is charged by degree depending upon the age of the victim. In addition, such charges can be brought if the victim is incapable of consent by reason of some factor other than being less than seventeen years old.
- "Vulnerable Adult"
A vulnerable adult generally is one who by means of some physical, mental or other impairment is not capable of giving consent.
III. REPORTING OF INCIDENTS OR COMPLAINTS
A. Reporting Sexual Abuse Allegations
The Sisters of St. Dominic regard sexual abuse as a very serious matter. Any individual who is a victim of sexual abuse or believes a minor or vulnerable adult has been the victim of sexual abuse by a member of the Congregation is urged to bring that information to the immediate attention of a member of the Central Council and/or the Prioress. All such incidents must ultimately be reported to the Prioress.
The Sisters of St. Dominic are committed to responding to all allegations of sexual abuse and to protecting the rights of the individuals concerned, as well as to provide pastoral support. The alleged victim of sexual abuse will be treated with respect, openness and compassion. This person will be assured of a prompt response and will be informed of the specific procedures which will be followed. In addition, the individual bringing the accusation will be informed of the Congregation’s commitment to confidentiality.
B. Nature of the Actions to Be Taken
In cases of allegations of sexual abuse, the Sisters of St. Dominic will: (i) observe the prescriptions of canon law and the policies of the Sisters of St. Dominic American Congregation of the Holy Cross; (ii) inform and cooperate, where appropriate, with diocesan authorities; (iii) inform and cooperate with law enforcement officials and child protection agencies when required by law; and (iv) respect and adhere to the laws of the civil jurisdiction involved. The Prioress will be responsible for implementing the policy and procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse.
Therefore, upon receipt of an allegation, informal complaint or formal complaint, the Congregation shall initiate action through its Response Team, including the Prioress and her designees:
- if the complaint involves alleged sexual abuse of a minor, the Prioress and her designees will assure that there has been compliance with the requirements of all applicable reporting statutes; a copy of the New York State law regarding reporting requirements in instances of alleged sexual abuse of a minor is attached to this policy statement. In addition, the Prioress and/or her designees will urge the complainant to notify legal authorities and assist the person to do so if the complainant wishes; the person bringing the allegation of sexual abuse may also be asked for a written statement describing the allegation.
- the Response Team will make immediate arrangements to remove the accused from further contact with the person making the accusation, the alleged victim, and all minors in the case of alleged sexual abuse of a child, unless particular circumstances make it clearly unnecessary;
- when a complaint or allegation of sexual abuse is received about a Sister of St. Dominic, if that complaint is received by another Sister within the Congregation, the Sister who receives the complaint or allegation shall inform the Prioress immediately.
- the Prioress and her designee will inform the accused Sister. The Prioress will instruct the accused Sister that there is no attorney/client privilege between them (e.g., anything the Sister says about the matter may be revealed should there be further proceedings in the legal system). With the advice of the Congregational attorney, the Prioress may delegate a Sister of St. Dominic, including, but not limited to a member of the Central Council, to be the support person for the accused Sister.
- the Prioress will notify the district attorney as warranted;
- the Prioress shall arrange for a separate attorney, other than the Congregational lawyer, to represent the Sister;
- the Prioress or her designees will notify appropriate professional advisors (i.e., the attorneys for the congregation, the insurance carrier, etc.);
- the Prioress will contact the diocesan Bishop;
- the Prioress or her designees will designate a media spokesperson immediately should the allegation become public, and will instruct the media spokesperson to consult with the Prioress and the Congregation’s attorneys prior to making any public statements;
V. INVESTIGATION AND REVIEW BOARD ASSISTANCE
As noted previously, the Congregation takes all accusations of sexual abuse seriously. The investigation and resolution of allegations and complaints will be driven by pastoral concern for the victim and for the accused and by concern for the good of the Congregation and the wider community. The Prioress and her designees are responsible for initiating the investigation. Allegations will be treated confidentially to the extent possible to protect victims, witnesses and those who may be wrongfully accused.
With respect to the investigation, the following procedures apply:
1. The Prioress may appoint a delegate in consultation with the attorneys for the Congregation to investigate allegations of sexual abuse. This outside investigator will not be a Dominican Sister.
2. If an outside investigator is engaged, the investigator will attempt to interview both the alleged victim and the accused individual, along with any potential witnesses.
3. All appropriate steps will be taken to protect the reputation and privacy of those involved: complainant(s), victim(s) and the accused.
4. The accused Sister may be asked to voluntarily refrain from ministry while the investigation of the allegation is carried out.
5. Careful inquiry is made about the facts of the allegation to determine whether there is sufficient evidence that the sexual abuse of a minor has occurred.
6. While the investigator undertakes these responsibilities, the Prioress will convene the Review Board , with the advice of the Congregation’s attorney and will consult a canon lawyer as well as mental health professionals. The Review Board will consist of two Dominican Sisters, mental health professionals (psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker), [and a parent] The Review Board may also consult a canon lawyer. The Review Board will provide consultation and advice regarding credibility issues, substantiality of the accusation, suggestions on the safety plan for the accused member and periodic review of the sexual abuse policy implementation as well as any changes to the policy.
7. Central Council may, in its discretion, provide pastoral assistance such as counseling or reimbursement for such services to the alleged victim regardless of the credibility or substantiation of the allegation.
8. The investigation will be completed within a reasonable period of time. The Prioress and her designees will take steps to insure that an evaluation, assessment and therapy are provided for the accused Sister as needed. An accused Sister may be urged to voluntarily comply with an appropriate medical and psychological evaluation at a facility mutually acceptable to the Congregation and the accused. If an accused Sister admits to the allegation, she will be referred to an appropriate treatment program. In that instance, the Sister will not be permitted to engage in a ministry that involves direct contact with minors.
B. Disposition of the Matter
1. The investigator and the Review Board will report their findings to the Prioress. The report of the investigation may include recommendations for appropriate action. The report should be factual only and should not contain subjective opinions or information that would otherwise be confidential or private. The Prioress, along with her designee, will inform both the alleged victim and the accused individual the results of the investigation. Pastoral attention shall be given to both accuser and accused.
2. If the investigation and the findings of the Review Board disclose that morally inappropriate conduct did not occur, the accused may be reinstated to ministry. Upon such a finding, the Congregation will do all that is possible to restore the good name and reputation of the accused Sister.
3. If the investigation and findings of the Review Board conclude that morally inappropriate conduct did occur, the Congregation shall:
(a) have the right to take appropriate action against the accused individual, including termination of ministry subject to the requirements of canon law;
(b) consider the results from any psychological evaluation and arrange for an administrative leave during which all public ministries shall cease and a prescribed treatment program shall be mandated;
(c) continue appropriate pastoral assistance for the victim and the victim’s family;
(d) take all other actions necessary to show compassion and concern to the victim, the accused, and the affected Congregation in accordance with the mission of the Congregation.
Individual circumstances may prescribe a course of action that is at variance with these guidelines. Support for such action, however, will be documented.
C. Protecting the Rights of the Victim and the Accused
In the event the Congregation receives a complaint or allegation of sexual abuse, the investigator and the Review Board must take reasonable steps to protect the confidentiality of both the accuser and the accused. All involved need to recognize the fact that the resolution of such a complaint or allegation often depends upon the credibility of the parties.
With respect to the alleged victim, the investigator and the Review Board must ensure that individual’s right to be free from retaliation. The response by the Congregation must also respect the privacy interests of the alleged victim. The alleged victim will be treated with compassion and dignity and will be assured of a prompt response. The person will also be informed of the investigative procedures in place and the time frame in which a response may be expected.
With respect to the accused Sister, the investigation and board review process must protect that individual’s right to privacy and be sensitive to any potential for false allegations. The accused Sister will be further informed that communications between the Sister and the Prioress concerning such allegations are not privileged and confidential and that only communications between the Sister and her attorney are covered by such a privilege. The accused Sister will be advised of her right to an attorney to assist her in having her questions answered and in responding to the allegations. The Sister will also be assured of the Congregation’s commitment to its moral obligations to her through this process.
As has been the case in the past, the Congregation will periodically conduct educational workshops for members regarding various types of sexual abuse, recognizing a problem and effective intervention.
VII. IMPLEMENTATION AND MONITORING
These policies and procedures are effective immediately. The Central Council will continue to provide materials for the education of our members as well as information about any relevant legislation as such information becomes available. This policy may be applied as appropriate in cases of sexual exploitation of adults. The foregoing procedures will be monitored on a regular basis in consultation with the Congregation's counsel and the Review Board. The policy itself will be reviewed on a bi-annual basis by the Central Council in consultation with the Congregation's counsel and the Review Board.
Reporting Requirements under New York Law
Under Section 413 of the New York Social Services Law, various individuals, by virtue of their occupational standards or professional mandates, are required to report to state agencies or law enforcement when child abuse/neglect is suspected.
1. Those Who Must Report:
* Physicians, registered physician assistants; surgeons; medical examiners;
coroners, dentists; dental hygienists; osteopaths; optometrists; chiropractors;
podiatrists; residents; interns; registered nurses; emergency medical technicians;
hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care of treatment
of persons; or a Christian Science practitioner;
* School officials; social services workers; day-care center workers;
providers of family or group family day-care; employees or volunteers
in a residential care facility; or any other child care or foster care worker;
* Psychologists; mental health professionals; substance abuse counselors;
* Peace officers; police officers; district attorneys or assistant district attorneys;
investigators employed in the office of a district attorney; or other law
2. Circumstances In Which Report Must Be Made:
* When individuals referenced above have reasonable cause to suspect that a child
coming before them in their professional or official capacity is an abused or
maltreated child; or
* When they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is an abused or maltreated child where the parent, guardian, custodian or other person legally responsible for such child comes before them in their professional or official capacity and states from personal knowledge facts, conditions or circumstances which, if correct, would render the child an abused or maltreated child.
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