New safe environment program replaces VIRTUS training

The Diocese of Knoxville is introducing a new safe environment program for the protection of children and vulnerable adults that will apply to all diocesan volunteers and employees.

Effective July 1, the diocese has implemented the CMG Connect online platform to administer the safe environment program, which replaces the VIRTUS Protecting God’s Children program that has been in place since 2014.

All diocesan employees were required to complete registration in the new CMG Connect program by July 31. All volunteers will be required to submit their registration, perform the training exercises, submit to a background check, and receive certification before their volunteer assignments can begin.

In addition to protecting children and vulnerable adults, the training videos include workplace and school safety.

“Since 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has required safe-environment training and background checks among those entrusted with children and vulnerable adults in the name of the Church. Our diocese has maintained its own database for safe-environment records,” said Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville.

“Our new system is designed to centralize that effort and make it easier for parishes and organizations to check whether volunteers are certified in safe-environment training or need recertification and updated background checks. The premise of our new program is to streamline the safe-environment process and eliminate a lot of paperwork and make everything easier for everyone who must participate. I am quite pleased with the new program,” Deacon Smith added.

CMG Connect is a service of Catholic Mutual Group, the leading provider of insurance to the Catholic Church in North America. Catholic Mutual Group serves more than 125 dioceses and archdioceses, including the Diocese of Knoxville, and 200 Catholic religious orders in the United States and Canada.

CMG Connect is providing the safe environment certification program as part of U.S. dioceses’ and archdioceses’ compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons.

Jennifer Mills, director of human resources for the diocese, explained that there are three elements to the safe environment program that every U.S. diocese adheres to as required by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: an educational piece, a background piece, and a policy piece.

VIRTUS provided the educational piece. As part of that program, employees and volunteers were required to sign up for classes that taught awareness and prevention of abusive and inappropriate behavior toward children and vulnerable adults. The classes were held in parishes and schools throughout the diocese during the year.

The Church and diocese are responsible for the policy piece, and background checks are performed by an independent contractor.

Mrs. Mills said CMG Connect combines all three pieces in a user-friendly, web-based program that removes logistical complexities of the VIRTUS program.

“CMG brings all three elements together. All policies and applications are online, and users are able to provide the background information needed,” Mrs. Mills said.

Selection.com is performing the background checks of all diocesan volunteers and employees for CMG Connect.

Mrs. Mills said an important reason for switching from VIRTUS to CMG Connect was the teaching elements offered by CMG Connect are more up to date. Both programs use videos to teach, but she said CMG Connect’s videos are more updated and user-friendly.

Another advantage to changing is that all elements of the CMG Connect program are online, so users are no longer required to find a location where a VIRTUS class is offered, drive to that site, and complete the tutorial, according to Mrs. Mills.

She noted that all VIRTUS classes were indefinitely suspended last winter at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We began the switch to CMG Connect before COVID-19 hit, but now we can continue our program despite COVID,” she said.

According to Mrs. Mills, the process for completing the CMG Connect certification is:

Go to www.dioknox.org and click on the Safe Environment tab near the top of the home page;

  • Click on the CMG Connect Online Safe Environment Training tab;
  • Register as a new user;
  • Once registered, users input their basic information;
  • Then select the job or volunteer role or roles that apply, such as priest, educator, employee, or volunteer;
  • Select one of four specific employee or volunteer roles that will dictate the background check;
  • Select the appropriate training exercises;
  • Submit information to launch the background check;
  • Await certification by the diocese.

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