Tips for those in catechetical ministries
MARY LOU ROSIEN
Those of us in catechetical ministry are all aware of the pressures that exist in working for a church, or volunteering in a church setting, given the atmosphere created by the ongoing Church sex-abuse crisis. Safeguarding children is one of our main goals; yet we must also be intentional about protecting ourselves. Reputations and employment can be lost in an instant over an accusation, even a false one, or a misunderstanding.
To ensure the safety of young people and our own reputations, here are a few tips we should consider as we seek to work with children in a healthy and safe way. Share these tips with your catechetical teams as you work to strengthen your safeguards in your environment.
1. Never, ever be alone with a child. This is harder than it sounds. When we work for a parish, we are not just employees, but friends and church family to those around us. Friends’ children may ask for a ride home from youth ministry activity, event, or Mass. It can be difficult to say no and not sound like you are being unwilling or unkind. However, we must protect the children at all costs and our good names, as well.
Remind catechists to always have a third party in faith formation class or any other times
when children are with them.
For parish catechetical leaders, if you have a small group of volunteer catechists, having
a third party in each class may seem burdensome. But try to recruit one parent a week per class to act as a classroom aide.
2. Do not be friends on social media with anyone under 18 years old or any vulnerable adult. (A vulnerable adult is defined as an individual who cannot make an informed decision on their own, or whose ability to choose an action is impaired.) This, too, is harder than it sounds — especially if your own children or your catechists’ children are friends with the kids in question. However, a secondary benefit to this rule is that ignorance is sometimes bliss. It’s easier to think kindly of the kids we work with when we are not confronted by some of their choices portrayed on social media channels.
3. Always include another adult (preferably a staff member) in any communications via email or text with minors and vulnerable adults. This protects against misunderstandings, miscommunications, or untruths in reporting conversations. It is recommended that you, as a parish leader, should never use your personal email for the communications referred to here, and catechists should do so from a parish email, as well. They should always copy the pastor, you, or their supervisor on any email that is sent.
4. Make sure your catechists participate in your diocese’s safe environment training. This is mandatory in all dioceses. Almost all dioceses have the training available either through classes or online. Make sure to keep track of diocesan updates and relay them to your catechetical team.
5. Keep doors open when meeting in any office. Even though you should have a third party present, sometimes people duck in your office for a quick conversation. Always keep the door open so anyone walking by can see who is in the room. If the conversation is personal or private, consider having another trusted adult there or even meeting publicly but outside of others’ listening ears.
Review these safeguards with catechists regularly. Send these guidelines to parents, as well.
6. Try not to have any unnecessary physical contact. This guideline may seem really difficult when in ministry, but resist hugging a child unless a parent is nearby and it is
permitted by the parent. We don’t want to be robotic or uncaring, so use positive words and facial expressions. Sometimes a hug or a touch on the arm is appropriate (for example, when someone is grieving), but it is best if this never happens in a private setting, as it could be unwanted or misinterpreted.
Additionally, taking this precaution can also emotionally protect individuals on the autism spectrum or those with sensory issues. Some people do not interpret physical touch as it is
intended; always ask before any contact. For example, if offering assistance, try something like this: “John, is it OK if I help you with those buttons on your coat?”
7. Document and report any concerns. Encourage your whole catechetical team to do the same. It is always better to err on the side of caution. Proper documentation and reporting may prevent further harm, bring policy practices and gaps to the attention of church leaders, avoid litigation or criminal charges, and contribute to the safety of your community and parish.
Following these guidelines will ultimately keep the children and teens in our care, as well as
ourselves, safer, happier, and less stressed.
Mary Lou Rosien is a Catholic author, speaker, columnist, and catechist. She is a co-coordinator of Christian Formation/RCIA at St. Leo’s Church in Hilton, New York. Find her first children’s book created with her husband and illustrator, Igor Rosien, at CATmag.us/2Xt2DRL.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, October 2019.
Image by RaphaelJeanneret, Pixabay