Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Diocesan Background Checks

My regular correspondent sent me a 2009 USCCB document, Background Evaluation Methodologies, which, although it focuses mainly on child and youth protection, gives an insight into background checks typically performed by US dioceses. Entries generally look like this:
The background check used by the Diocese is through HIRERITE, Inc. It consists of a seven year criminal record check in all states resided, a sex offender‘s registry search, and social security number verification.
This sounds roughly like what I went though as a lay volunteer who completed the Virtus program. I would assume that background checks for clergy might, formally or informally, need to be more comprehensive. In particular, a juvenile conviction, which could certainly indicate criminal tendencies, might not appear on such a search, either because juvenile records are sealed, or simply because it took place more than seven years earlier.

I also heard from a visitor who went through the background check and psychological evaluation for clergy in the OCSP during the Steenson era. He noted that he'd been in the military earlier in life, and in the course of that service, he'd had FBI-style background checks for security clearances. (I've had the same thing; they do in fact go through your friends, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, and ask detailed questions.) He said the background checks for OCSP clergy were, at least in his case, performed by the local diocese where he lives and were nowhere near as thorough as the FBI checks he'd had. The OCSP being what it is, we can't necessarily expect consistency, though.

It's worth noting that his experience with the psychological evaluation was not as good. He was coming from an Anglican denomination that was friendly to same-sex marriage, and he gave that to the psychologist conducting the interview as one reason that led him to consider the Catholic priesthood. In other words, he conformed to the teachings of the Catholic Church. However, the interviewer apparently then told my visitor that he was openly gay, and he accused my visitor of being a "homophobe" and a "hater".

I suppose we must recognize that even diocesan screening procedures can be flawed. (It wouldn't surprise me if seminarians in that diocese learned informally how to answer questions from psychologist x, information that might not have been available to my visitor, who effectively was a walk-on candidate.) Michael Voris ain't just blowin' smoke, it would appear.

Again, though, if seminarians normally come from diocesan parishes, where their progress toward formation can be fostered and observed through much of their youth, this would serve the purpose of a detailed FBI check. In addition, from what I've learned of the clergy sex abuse crisis, the conduct of the bad priests had often been generally known or suspected by fellow clergy. The problem was that the offenders were shunted around to get rid of the problem as quietly as possible, rather than facing the issue directly. Thus background checks per se weren't the issue; the backgrounds were in fact often known and understood -- the question was the remedy.

But this would be much less the case with candidates coming to the Church already ordained as Anglicans. They wouldn't have been known to the diocese (or the prelature) from their time in seminary or before. There's the additional problem of jurisdiction-hopping. If a priest is being carefully eased out of an Anglican denomination, especially in such a way as to avoid scandal there, the Anglican bishop has a motive to give the bad apple an enthusiastic recommendation, or at least not to mention the problem issues that could result in his staying right where they were trying to get rid of him.

So, whatever background check on an OCSP candidate a diocese might perform, it could be adequate as a way of vetting a lay volunteer or employee, but it might well not be due diligence for clergy, who see the most vulnerable in their weakest times. I seriously question whether this issue has been adequately addressed, simply in the basic architecture of Anglicanorum coetibus. It assumes that Protestants essentially do things the same way Catholics do, which is dangerous.