Bishop Conley announces new service, staff changes
LINCOLN (SNR) – Bishop James Conley announced Aug. 29 an anonymous hotline and website from the nationally known company NAVEX Global to assist persons in making reports of misconduct in the Diocese of Lincoln.
Bishop Conley began his announcement of this new hotline – which is under construction by NAVEX – by making clear the first step in any report of a crime or suspected crime is to call law enforcement.
Update:The new hotline is 1-844-527-0596 (English and Spanish). The website is under construction.
Nebraska law requires all suspicions of child abuse or neglect to be reported to law enforcement or DHHS (Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-652-1999).
Until this position is filled in the Diocese of Lincoln, calls will be answered by Marsha Bartek, interim VAC, with the assistance of Mary Beth Hanus, VAC for the Archdiocese of Omaha
Diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator 402-314-2899
“This hotline is not a substitute or alternative to calling law enforcement; it is intended to offer the maximum alternatives to make sure any wrong in the Church is uncovered and reported.
“Law enforcement agencies are the best, most objective independent investigators,” Bishop Conley said. “The Diocese of Lincoln appreciates the work that they do and pledges its support to all efforts to stop criminal behavior by predators.”
In cases of sexual abuse, the report should be made to local law enforcement agencies or the Nebraska Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-652-1999).
“I am committed to protecting the safety of all people in the Diocese of Lincoln,” the bishop said. “The evil of sexual abuse is in all parts of our lives, in all institutions, and the Church has not been spared from this evil. We must take even initial signs of wrongful conduct as potentially something far more serious—warning signs and a demand for action.” In his Aug. 17 column in the Southern Nebraska Register, Bishop Conley encouraged people to report even things that make them uncomfortable, things people may question whether or not they constitute “abuse.”
“Please report these if there is uncertainty,” Bishop Conley said, “and know that those reports are critical.”
The new hotline allows for all kinds of concerns and complaints – of sexual misconduct, boundary violations, suspicious behavior, financial impropriety or any other potential wrongs – to be brought out into the open. Bishop Conley reiterated that suspected criminal actions should be reported to law enforcement. For those events that law enforcement declines to investigate, the NAVEX service will direct complaints to the appropriate diocesan administrators.
The introduction of NAVEX Global offers “outside” assessment of those complaints.
NAVEX Global’s “EthicsPoint Incident Management software” will provide, in the Diocese of Lincoln, a telephone hotline and website where persons may report those complaints. The complaints will be reviewed by NAVEX and channeled to the appropriate administrator.
NAVEX serves more than 13,000 customers around the globe, including 95 of the Fortune 100 companies. Several other dioceses around the nation have begun using their services, such as EthicsPoint, to ensure compliance with ethical business practices.
Tracy Lockwood, chief financial officer for the Diocese of Lincoln, explained that in August 2017 the diocese began looking at implementing an ethics hotline primarily geared toward providing a way for employees, volunteers, parishioners, and other interested parties to report financial misconduct, code of conduct violations, or internal control concerns.
“We knew this was a best practice from corporate America and would help us identify and respond to issues throughout our diocese,” Lockwood said. “Now, we really felt we needed to renew our efforts and put the hotline into place so that we can provide a new avenue to receive and respond to reports of misconduct of all kinds.
“Making it easier for victims and others to come forward and to be anonymous if they wish is important to Bishop Conley,” she continued.
An example of how a report would be analyzed and then routed by this system is that a report about financial misconduct that is not deemed a matter for law enforcement, would be forwarded to diocesan financial authorities for review, auditing, and other investigative steps.
Another example is that if there was an allegation of sexual abuse by a priest that law enforcement declined to pursue for any reason, further inquiry may still be required by Church law and the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People – a comprehensive set of procedures established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy – to see if the accused priest is suitable for ministry. Such review would be conducted in conjunction the Diocesan Review Board.
The review board is comprised of people with experience in law enforcement and mental health. The current board consists of Father Randall Langhorst, Debi Crotty, Holly Burns, Harold LeGrande, and Manny Gallardo.
Bishop Conley has previously explained that he presented diocesan cases of abuse to the review board Aug. 7, and met with them again Aug. 13.
“This has been an active process,” the bishop said. “I am sharing all of the information that is known in these cases with this group.”
Each diocese is required to have a review board according to the “Essential Norms,” which serve as particular law for the United States enacted by the Holy See in conjunction with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The diocesan review board evaluates allegations of the abuse of a minor against a priest or deacon.
“I have consciously expanded the scope of our Diocesan Review Board,” Bishop Conley explained. “I have now asked for their counsel in cases that do not involve minors.”
The purpose of the review board is to seek the truth of situations brought before them, and to counsel the bishop in responding to each case.
Chancery staff changes
The bishop is also revamping his chancery staff to broaden the counsel he receives regarding administration of the diocese.
Related: list of new clergy appointments
Msgr. Mark Huber, who has been serving as judicial vicar, has been named vicar general of the diocese. The vicar general – an appointment required by canon law – is to assist the bishop in the governance of the entire diocese. Msgr. Huber is also pastor of St. Mary Parish in Denton.
Msgr. Timothy Thorburn has been vicar general since 1999.
“I am grateful for the service of Msgr. Thorburn to our diocese, who has held a number of positions over the years and served with a love for Christ and His Church,” Bishop Conley said. “I am also grateful for his willingness to take on a new role at this time, as the diocese faces new challenges.”
Msgr. Thorburn will continue serving as chaplain to the Carmelite Sisters, and will now also serve as a judge on the tribunal, and as co-vicar for religious.
Father Steven Snitily, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Brainard, has been named judicial vicar. He acts with the authority of the bishop in judicial matters – judging cases in the diocesan ecclesiastical court.
Father Christopher Goodwin will serve as vicar for clergy. Under this title, he will address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of priests in the diocese and act as a liaison between priests and the bishop, and vice versa. The role has been filled by Father Randall Langhorst since 2013, the first to fill in the role full-time.
“Father Langhorst has been an advocate for retired and ill priests,” the bishop said. “He has helped mentor young priests and has heard the concerns of priests throughout the whole diocese. His availability to all his brother priests has been greatly appreciated.”
Father Langhorst is serving as administrator of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Wilber and St. Joseph Parish in Tobias.
Father Goodwin has been working as a secretary in the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C. since 2014.
“I value counsel from others,” Bishop Conley said. “I consult priests and lay experts to inform my decisions. I take complete ownership of my decisions and actions,” he continued, but reiterated that he welcomes input from a variety of sources.
“I will continue to seek counsel from experts in all areas where it is needed,” he said. “I am looking forward to the assistance provided by EthicsPoint, to bring to light any situations in which someone has been harmed.
“We must get to the truth for those who have been wronged or hurt,” he stressed, “and ensure that all victims find justice.”
The diocese will also hire a “Victim Assistance Coordinator” to provide for immediate support and pastoral outreach for persons who report that they were sexually abused as minors by church personnel. This includes meeting personally with victims who contact the diocese, acknowledging the accusation, providing a compassionate and timely response, and informing them of available assistance. This support may include arranging for various support services, including counseling with a mental health professional, spiritual direction, and/or referrals to support groups and other community resources.
Related item: 'Seeking the truth' by Bishop Conley