Diocese, McNabb Center partner on sexual assault reporting

Innovative agreement announced after months of detailed discussion

By The East Tennessee Catholic

The Diocese of Knoxville has announced that the McNabb Center, the region’s leading nonprofit provider of mental health, substance use, and social and victim services, will serve as the diocese’s new sexual assault victim’s reporting provider, the first point of contact for anyone wishing to report a possible sexual abuse claim against the diocese.

“This is a positive step for our diocese, but most important it is a new path forward for anyone who feels that they have been a victim of abuse,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika. “We are pleased and grateful that the McNabb Center has agreed to take on this vital role as an independent third-party agency.”

The agreement between the diocese and the McNabb Center was announced after several months of detailed discussion.

“Sexual abuse is often difficult to talk about, and we want to encourage individuals to report and receive support and assistance,” said Catherine Oaks, who is the director of victim services for the McNabb Center.

“Calls from the reporting line will be responded to compassionately by a master’s level clinician uniquely experienced and trained within our victim services division of McNabb.”

This partnership with McNabb and the Diocese of Knoxville will provide an independent avenue for individuals to report sexual abuse and receive information on how and where to access support and treatment as needed.

In the Diocese of Knoxville, the coordinator maintains a vital role in making sure any abuse victim is treated with dignity and respect, and the coordinator will follow all mandatory reporting laws.

The diocese’s previous victim’s assistance coordinator, Marla Lenihan, a licensed mental health therapist from Oak Ridge, served in that position for 20 years. Ms. Lenihan died in March following a battle with cancer.

Father Doug Owens, pastor of All Saints Parish in Knoxville and a vicar general of the Diocese of Knoxville, served as the interim coordinator while the new agreement was being developed.

“Marla did a remarkable job for our diocese for two decades. She was compassionate and had a great understanding of the challenges faced by abuse victims. We are indebted to her service,” Bishop Stika said.

“It is unique to partner with an independent outside agency, but we believe it’s the right thing to do. The McNabb Center shares our desire to offer dignity and a voice to those who have been victimized,” Bishop Stika added.

The new phone line to the McNabb Center’s victim’s assistance coordinator is 865-321-9080 and was activated on Dec. 27. The coordinator will respond to all reports within one business day.

The Diocese of Knoxville, established by Pope John Paul II in 1988, includes more than 70,000 registered Catholics worshiping in 51 parishes in 36 counties in East Tennessee.

The McNabb Center, previously known as the Helen Ross McNabb Center, has been the region’s leading nonprofit provider of mental health, substance use, social and victim services for decades.

Since 1948, the McNabb Center has served individuals with the most needs and fewest resources. The McNabb Center delivers support to more than 36,750 people throughout East Tennessee each year.

The Diocese of Knoxville’s program for sexual assault victim’s reporting was initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 when the bishops met in Dallas and approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable people by Catholic clergy.

After the USCCB formalized national guidelines for dioceses to meet the Dallas Charter requirements, the diocese intiated the VIRTUS program for training all diocesan employees and volunteers who came in regular contact with children and vulnerable adults.

Under VIRTUS, employees and volunteers were required to attend training sessions that taught awareness and prevention of abusive and inappropriate behavior toward children and vulnerable adults. The training sessions were held in parishes and schools throughout the diocese.

Employees and volunteers also had to submit to a background check and complete documentation attesting that they were VIRTUS certified.

Also as part of the Church’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the diocese is subject to an on-site audit each year by the independent agency StoneBridge Business Partners for compliance with all audited articles within the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The conclusions reached as to the diocese’s compliance are based on inquiry, observation, and the review of specifically requested documentation.

StoneBridge has found the diocese to be in compliance in all annual audits.

In addition to the McNabb Center, the Diocese of Knoxville now works with the CMG Connect platform to administer the Safe Environment Program, which replaces the former Safe Environment Program (VIRTUS “Protecting God’s Children”).

The diocese introduced CMG Connect on July 1, 2020.

All diocesan employees are required to complete registration in the CMG Connect program. And all volunteers are 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,” Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, has said.

“Our 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 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 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 USCCB’s 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.

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

The CMG Connect program combines all three pieces in a user-friendly, web-based program that removes the logistical complexities experienced with the VIRTUS program.

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 website home page;
  • Click on the CMG Connect Online Safe Environment Training tab;
  • Register as a new user; once registered, users input their basic information;
  • 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;
  • Then await certification by the diocese.

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