The following comes from an Aug. 4 story published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Reversing his stance on a sensitive issue, Bishop Robert Vasa is allowing the Santa Rosa Diocese to continue offering child safety training in its schools and to participate in a nationwide audit that determines whether dioceses have provided the training intended to prevent child sex abuse.
Auditors working for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will visit the diocese for two days this month. They will examine records and interview the bishop, some priests and other church officials, including members of the review board that handles sex abuse complaints.
Santa Rosa was among the Catholic dioceses that passed last year’s audit for compliance with the child safety standards, including training for children and adults, adopted by the bishops conference in 2002.
The 165,000-member diocese, where the sex abuse scandal surfaced in 1994, has been found compliant with the standards since the first audit in 2003.
But Vasa, who took over as head of the diocese last July, had refused to provide children’s safety training or participate in the audit in his previous post as bishop of the Baker diocese in eastern Oregon.
The Baker diocese was cited for failing to provide the children’s training in 2005, and subsequently refused to participate in audits in 2006, 2008 and 2010, according to audit reports.
Vasa said last week his decision to let Santa Rosa’s child safety training program continue and to participate in the audit was “not a change of heart.”
The bishop said he still questions the efficacy of the program for Catholic school children, but wants to demonstrate the diocese’s commitment to their safety.
“I want to manifest that I have the best interests of the children at heart,” he said. “The audit seems to be the indicator of that fact.”
In the Baker diocese, Vasa said his decision to opt out of the audit was financial, based on the audit’s $10,000 cost and knowing the diocese would be found non-compliant for failing to offer child safety training.
“It was dollars and cents,” Vasa said. “It had nothing to do with an absence of care with our children.”
The Baker diocese offered training to parents and church volunteers, but not to children, and Vasa said he still believes parents are the best line of defense against child sex abuse.
In its report on the 2011 audit, the bishops conference said that safe environment training is “powerful” for adults and children. “This training provides, to children in particular, critical, life-forming messages about the skills necessary to protect themselves from the harm of child sexual abuse,” it said.
“That’s a great motive and intention,” Vasa said, regarding that statement. “Does it actually do it? I don’t know.”
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