To make safe environment training more accessible to people involved in ministries serving children in parishes and schools across the Diocese of Nashville, the diocese’s Mission Integration Office has scheduled training sessions in each of the five deaneries of the diocese.
“There was a real need and a desire to do more training out in the deaneries,” said Jason Liuzzi, diocesan safe environment coordinator. “A deanery is a geographical region within a diocese. Our diocese has five such regions; they are the City, Central, Northeast, Northwest, and South deaneries.”
Liuzzi’s office has scheduled two sessions each at six locations, one from 1-3 p.m. and a second from 6-8 p.m. “We’re giving people multiple opportunities to attend if they can’t come during work hours,” he said.
Six sessions have already been held at three locations: the Cathedral of the Incarnation for the City Deanery; Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville for the Northwest Deanery; St. John the Evangelist Church in Lewisburg for the South Deanery; and Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville for the Northeast Deanery.
More sessions are scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 9, at Holy Family Church in Brentwood for the Central Deanery; and Tuesday, Nov. 28, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville, also for the Northeast Deanery.
Liuzzi is also working to organize sessions in Spanish and will publicize those trainings as soon as the schedule is finalized, he said.
For the deanery training sessions, the diocese has partnered with Our Kids, a non-profit organization in Nashville that provides expert medical evaluations and crisis counseling in response to concerns of child sexual abuse. The organization also works to promote community awareness of child sexual abuse, conducts research, and offers education and training on the issue.
“We wanted someone to talk about the practicalities of working with cases of abuse,” Liuzzi said. In particular, “how do you care for someone who reports something like that.”
“Our Kids have been an amazing partner,” Liuzzi said. “They see hundreds of kids a year. They can talk about it from a place of experience, which I think is incredibly valuable.”
Liuzzi opens the training sessions with a presentation on the diocese’s code of conduct for employees and volunteers with parish and diocesan ministries. The Our Kids presenters then talk about “how to respond to a disclosure of abuse, what do you do if your child or a child in your community discloses they’re being abused,” Liuzzi said.
Tennessee law requires all adults who have a reasonable suspicion that a child is being sexually abused to report it to the police or the state Department of Children’s Services. The Our Kids presenters talk about “all the things you do prior to making a report,” Liuzzi said.
“They do a very good job of plainly putting it out there … how you can best help that child,” Liuzzi said.
The diocese has invited all clergy, directors of religious education, youth ministers, and parish safe environment coordinators to attend the training sessions, Liuzzi said. Also invited are all the people who work with ministries with children or in the schools who have participated in the diocesan safe environment training, he added.
But everyone who is interested can attend, Liuzzi said. “I think anyone would find it valuable to come and hear what they have to say,” including people who have children enrolled in parish programs or in schools, he said.
“It’s important to bring the issue back to the forefront of our minds,” Liuzzi said. “Even if we don’t encounter it in our ministries and our churches, certainly we’ll encounter it in our broader communities.”
“It’s been really successful,” Liuzzi said of the training sessions held so far. More than 90 people have attended, which is more than the typical number of attendees who would attend a training session held at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Nashville, he said.
“We’re seeing people who wouldn’t want to or wouldn’t be able to come into the Catholic Pastoral Center” for a training session, Liuzzi said.
There still is value in holding events for larger groups at the Catholic Pastoral Center, Liuzzi said. “This serves a different purpose,” he said of the deanery training sessions. The goal is to find ways to best support people doing ministry in the diocese, he explained.
The diocese recently completed an on-site safe environment audit, and was once again found in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Liuzzi said. The diocese has been found to be in full compliance in every audit conducted since the charter was adopted in 2002.
The diocese encourages anyone who knows of or suspects that abuse has taken place to make the proper reports to civil authorities. People can call the Department of Children’s Services reporting line 24-hours a day, from anywhere in the state in English and Spanish. The number is 877-237-0004.