Bishop establishes diocesan Office of Safe Environment
Appoints Deacon Joseph Regali to head new department


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — As a way to “restructure and strengthen our efforts in the areas of abuse prevention and the provision of safe and secure environments” within the Fall River Diocese, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., has established a new Office of Safe Environment under the diocesan administration.

The new department will now be a separate entity under the Chancery and will no longer fall under the umbrella of Catholic Social Services.

“I am committed to doing all in my ability to ensure that a culture of safe environment permeates all ministries and programs offered by the Fall River Diocese,” Bishop da Cunha wrote in his letter announcing the change. “This is especially true for those who serve our children and young people. It is critical that we all remain ever vigilant toward this end.”

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The bishop has appointed Deacon Joseph E. Regali to head this new agency, while retaining his current position as director of the diocesan Pastoral Planning office.

Noting that the new office’s responsibilities had previously been handled by CSS director Arlene McNamee in her role as victim assistance coordinator, Deb Berg as the safe environment coordinator, and additional personnel who conducted background checks, Deacon Regali said the bishop wanted to consolidate these tasks into one, centralized office.

“The bishop felt that since Arlene McNamee was retiring, it was an appropriate time to bring everything under the Chancery, under one department, and so he asked me to take it over, which I agreed to do and we’ve been going 100 miles-an-hour since,” Deacon Regali recently told The Anchor. “We’ve changed the name to the Office of Safe Environment, because it’s a more holistic approach and a more positive approach to what we do with children and young people.”

Having overseen Pastoral Planning for the past three years, Deacon Regali said he will continue doing “small administrative work” with that department — mostly dealing with collecting statistics and Mass attendance counts from parishes — but now “95 percent of my work will be focused on safe environment,” he said.

The purpose of the Office of Safe Environment is essentially threefold, according to Deacon Regali: facilitate live and online training for diocesan employees and volunteers; maintain compliance with diocesan policies and procedures, which in turn are guided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People”; and conduct Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) background checks. CORI checks need to be conducted every three years for full-time diocesan clergy and employees, and annually for volunteers.

To assist with this task, Deacon Regali recently hired Lorraine Levy as a background screening specialist to “take care of all the CORIs for school volunteers and all the parishes and also do background checks,” he said.

One of Deacon Regali’s first tasks in his new role was to update the safe environment training process for the diocese. Since the Fall River Diocese is a member of the Catholic Mutual Group, he opted to begin using its CMG Connect online safe environment training portal.

“It will be a combination of online and live training, but the live training will be minimal,” he said. “Almost everybody has access to a computer and they can access the training site remotely at their location and complete the training requirements. Our goal is to certify that employees and volunteers who work with children and young people have completed the three components of the training necessary for safe environment compliance.”

CMG Connect’s program, entitled “Safe Haven — It’s Up to You,” offers a series of videos with appropriate questions at the end of each one.

“It allows the person — whether it’s a volunteer or whoever’s taking the training — to go through the three videos, the associated questions, and also we’re requiring those people to take the Title 51A training, which is mandated reporter training (under Massachusetts General Law),” he said. “Under Title 51A, if you’re in a situation and you see potential or suspected abuse, you need to report it. At the end of the safe environment training, they receive a certificate, which is good for six years. So the training will need to be renewed every six years.”

“Anybody who has access to children should go, and will be required to go through this training program,” Deacon Regali added. “It’s highly recommended that everyone take the training, but it’s mandatory for those who work with children and youth.”

The safe environment training will be updated to reflect the latest changes to the USCCB’s “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which was just revised during the bishops’ Spring General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 13-14.

“The charter was issued in 2002, and has gone through three revisions,” Deacon Regali said. “There is a whole educational component dealing with specifically Article 12 of the charter that requires all dioceses, eparchies, and institutes have safe environment training and education for children, youth, parents, ministers, educators, volunteers, and others. These programs seek to prevent child abuse by educating those who work or volunteer with children.

“Our main purpose is to make sure that we’re in compliance with the USCCB charter at all times. So we’re there to monitor our volunteers and employees and make sure they’re in compliance.”

In addition to complying with the USCCB charter, the Office of Safe Environment will also help enforce and maintain the diocesan policies and procedures and its code of conduct, both of which are in the process of being updated, according to Deacon Regali.

“I’ll be meeting with the Diocesan Review Board next week,” he said. “One of their responsibilities as a review board is to periodically review the policies and procedures and code of conduct for the diocese. I hope to have the updated versions of the policies and procedures and code of conduct in place before the start of the school year in the fall.”

An important reason for keeping everything up-to-date is that the Fall River Diocese undergoes a yearly audit conducted by an outside agency.

“Training is a requirement of the audit, because this year we had the audit (and it) was just data submission,” Deacon Regali said. “Next year, the diocese will have an onsite audit, which will include parish and school visits. Audits are done every year, but every three years it’s an onsite audit, so the auditors come in usually for two to three days and go through all of our (policies and procedures) — the things that we’re supposed to be vigilant about. And then they spend a day speaking with people, going to parishes and schools.”

While his recent stint with pastoral planning may not have made him a likely candidate to take over the Office of Safe Environment, Deacon Regali’s prior experience in law enforcement certainly fit the bill. He served for 20 years with the Maine State Police and then worked another 20 years with the New England State Police Network as manager of analytical services.

“I think my law enforcement background has caused me to be more attentive to detail and to make sure that we follow-through and are current in all of our policies and procedures,” he said.

Admitting he’s “basically been learning on the fly” since taking on the new role, Deacon Regali picked up a few pointers at the recent Child and Youth Protection Catholic Leadership Conference, which he attended June 3-6 in New Orleans.

“There was a special session on the first day for new safe environment coordinators just to bring us up-to-speed before we get into the actual (work), and that was very, very helpful,” he said. “I think the biggest thing I took away from the conference was that working in this Office of Safe Environment is more than a job. It’s actually a ministry and that was a big thing for me in that I had not thought about it before. But after you sit down and think about it — yeah, it is a ministry.”

Deacon Regali said he’s already looking forward to attending next year’s conference, which will be hosted by the Diocese of Camden, N.J.

“The big thing, like any conference, is to establish contacts,” he said. “Another big thing for me was getting to know my counterparts in the other dioceses in New England, which was very helpful. They are called by different names, but in my research I’ve found that most of the offices that handle this are called ‘safe environment,’ or a variation of that.”

Looking ahead, Deacon Regali said he’d like to offer training sessions related to topics like building safety.

“I call it phase two, where we expand into looking at safety for all our parishes and schools,” he said. “Establishing a program for them to handle anything related to the safety of parishioners, of people in the schools. Most notably, to handle situations like we’ve seen across the country with mass shootings and things like that. So everybody is trained in the event, Lord forbid, that there’s an active shooter situation.”

Like many of our diocesan priests, Deacon Regali now has the unenviable task of juggling multiple jobs between the Office of Safe Environment, the Pastoral Planning office, and serving as a permanent deacon at Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s parishes in North Attleboro, and St. Mark’s Parish in Attleboro Falls.

“So far it has been challenging, but not overbearing,” he said. “And because of the importance of the work and the end result, it’s been a good change for me. As a deacon and in my ministry of deacon, it now extends into the ministry of working in safe environment.”

Those interested in contacting the Office of Safe Environment can call the direct line at 508-985-6508, or email jregali@dioc-fr.org.

To inquire about CORI checks for school volunteers or diocesan staff, email Lorraine Levy at llevy@dioc-fr.org.


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