The Diocese of Nashville has announced that Jason Liuzzi will be the new full-time Diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator working under the direction of the Chief Mission Integration Officer.
Liuzzi, a former Catholic middle school teacher, sees his new role as a natural next step in his “strong call to minister to youth” and a “fulfillment of that vocation.”
Before taking on the role as Safe Environment Coordinator, Liuzzi spent five years teaching middle school religion at St. John the Evangelist Elementary School in Indiana. He holds a degree in theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
“He is very familiar with the importance and practices associated with ensuring we provide a Safe Environment for the children and youth in our diocese,” said Julie Perrey, Vice Chancellor and Chief Mission Integration Officer of the diocese. “He will be a wonderful addition to our Mission Integration Office Team,” she wrote in a letter to diocesan staff introducing Liuzzi.
“As a parent, my greatest concern” is keeping children safe, said Liuzzi, the father of a toddler and an infant, who recently moved to the Nashville area with his wife and children.
In his role as Safe Environment Coordinator, Liuzzi will oversee local Safe Environment programs and the proper implementation of diocesan safe environment policies and procedures. He will oversee background checks of all employees and volunteers who have regular contact with minors.
Liuzzi will develop and ensure the implementation of new educational materials related to maintaining a Safe Environment, and work with Parish Safe Environment Coordinators regarding the implementation of the diocesan programs and policies for protecting children, young people and vulnerable adults.
Creating a safe environment in the diocese means that staff, volunteers, parents and children are all properly trained to recognize warning signs of abuse and how to respond, Liuzzi said.
“We want to make children aware, with age-appropriate materials, how to keep themselves safe,” he said. “We want them to know to go to an adult when they feel that something seems off.”
Additionally, “we want parents to recognize what’s appropriate and safe” regarding their children’s interactions and relationships with other adults, Liuzzi added.
Many instances of abuse happen at the hands of an adult who has gained the trust of the child and their family. “That’s what makes these crimes so scandalous,” Liuzzi said, and “violates every fiber of our being.”
Training to recognize grooming and predatory behavior will be part of the Safe Environment program, he said.
In the role of diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator, Liuzzi will serve as the initial point of contact for reports of new abuse cases and assuring an appropriate and timely response to allegations, which includes the canonical and civil process and victims’ outreach services.
Liuzzi recognizes that reporting abuse “can be a difficult and uncomfortable experience,” and assures that “we’ll do everything we can to help victims so they can begin to heal.”
As a Leadership Evangelization and Discipleship Facilitator and Director at Franciscan University, Liuzzi lead youth retreats and at least once learned of a teenager who disclosed to another leader about experiencing abuse. As the program director, it was his responsibility to learn more about it and ultimately contact Child Protective Services.
“In those dark moments, there’s a profound and tremendous amount of healing that takes place,” Liuzzi said. “When things are brought into the light, Jesus is able to heal.”
Being proactive and transparent about responding to abuse is a priority, said Liuzzi. “One of the greatest mistakes” the Church made in the past regarding clergy sex abuse was a lack of transparency, he said.
“I want to learn from (past cases of abuse) and understand where we could have done better,” Liuzzi said.
Whenever abuse happens, “it’s a grave sin and a crime and creates deep wounds for the victim and the Church,” he said.
Liuzzi assures that protecting children is “among the Church’s top priorities.”
“How can we say we’re ‘living and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, welcoming all’ if we’re not creating a safe environment?”
The diocese has had a Safe Environment Coordinator since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted in 2002 the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which outlined a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, including guidelines for creating a safe environment for children and young people.
Multiple compliance audits of the Safe Environment Program mandated by the Charter as part of its oversight have found the diocese has been in full compliance with the requirements of the Charter since its adoption.
The diocese encourages anyone who knows of or suspects that abuse has taken place to make the proper reports to civil authorities and to diocesan officials if the potential abuser is an employee or volunteer of the diocese or one of its institutions.
More information is available at www.dioceseofnashville.com/child-safety.