Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The Diocese of St. Augustine makes the following information available as part of our effort to prevent sexual misconduct by promoting respect for appropriate boundaries in ministerial relationships. We also want to explain how issues of sexual misconduct are addressed within our church and to give information on how to report sexual misconduct that has occurred. We need to know how to care for victims.
Sexual misconduct by clergy or other church ministers is never acceptable. We recognize that it can have devastating consequences above all for victims and their families, but also for the church ministers involved and for the church community at large.
In ministry with God’s people we must strive to create worship, educational and work environments where we all treat each other with dignity, charity and respect.
Our obligation to minister in healthy and holy relationships flows from the mission given to us by Jesus, in whose name we serve.
Sincerely in our Lord,
Most Rev. Felipe J. Estévez
Bishop of St. Augustine
Sexual Misconduct in a Ministerial Relationship
A ministerial relationship is created whenever a person in his or her capacity as a church official or leader interacts with another person. This applies to:
- Clergy (bishops, priests, deacons)
- Members of religious communities (priests, brothers, sisters)
- All lay church ministers (employees and volunteers)
- Spiritual directors and counselors
- School personnel
- Seminary personnel
- Coaches and camp leaders
Sexual Misconduct is a general term that includes, but is not limited to, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
- Sexual harassment is sexualized language or conduct found to be unwelcome and offensive.
- Sexual exploitation is sexual conduct which violates a trust-relationship.
- Sexual abuse is sexual conduct between an adult and a minor or a “vulnerable adult” as defined by law.
Preventing Sexual Misconduct
The Diocese of St. Augustine requires church ministers to abide by its policies prohibiting sexual misconduct. The diocese also makes clear the procedures for dealing with incidents of sexual misconduct.
It is always the responsibility of church ministers to respect and maintain the appropriate emotional and relational boundaries of those they serve or with whom they work. When church ministers violate a ministerial relationship by any form of sexual misconduct they are taking advantage of the vulnerability of those who are seeking their ministry.
All candidates for the priesthood undergo seminary formation, a thorough psychological and psychiatric assessment before being ordained.
School personnel and religious education instructors are screened for the ability to work safely with children. They are offered instruction on appropriate professional conduct with students and are provided information to help recognize and deal with issues of child sexual abuse.
The Diocese of St. Augustine is committed, in collaboration with parents, educators and community leaders, to foster a safe environment for children and young people.
Responding to Sexual Abuse
The Diocese of St. Augustine is committed to effectively dealing with allegations of sexual abuse by a policy that requires:
- Offering immediate pastoral care to persons who have been victims of sexual abuse.
- Reporting allegations of sexual abuse to public authorities and cooperating with their investigation in accord with Florida law.
- Promoting transparency and openness, within the confines of respect for the rights and the reputation of the individuals involved.
- Removing offenders from ministry in accord with church law when it is admitted or established that a criminal offense of sexual abuse has occurred.
- Reaching out with pastoral concern and care to victims of sexual abuse and their families to foster healing and reconciliation with them.