Church also encouraging public to report incindents of abuse to police
SANTA ROSA – The Santa Rosa Diocese has begun fingerprinting priests and other employees who work with children to identify sex offenders, and is encouraging the public to report incidents of abuse directly to the authorities.
The announcement came Wednesday as part of the diocese’s updated sexual misconduct policy, which also requires background questionnaires from prospective employees and regular church volunteers.
The diocese introduced the fingerprinting some months back, but had not begun to actively implement it until now.
“It’s a priority. It needs to be done now,” said diocese spokeswoman Deirdre Frontczak.
The Santa Rosa Diocese, which stretches from Sonoma County to Oregon, aims to fingerprint all its priests. Frontczak said she hopes a significant number of clergy will get it done at a meeting this June.
Once taken, the prints will be sent to the state Department of Justice for a criminal records check. People convicted of felonies involving child abuse will not be permitted to stay in a position in which they have contact with children.
Six priests from the Santa Rosa Diocese have been publicly accused of molesting children. The diocese has acknowledged paying $7.4 million to settle sex abuse claims.
The Monterey Diocese began requiring fingerprinting of priests earlier this month, but took the policy a step further when it required fingerprinting of volunteers, too.
In Los Angeles, the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese has hired a public relations firm to help deal with the ongoing priest abuse scandal.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles tapped Sitrick & Co., a Century City-based company that has dealt with high-profile cases. The company’s clients have included troubled energy company Dynegy Inc., Global Crossing during its bankruptcy, actress Halle Berry following a traffic accident and comedian Paula Poundstone, who was charged with child endangerment.
The archdiocese was being advised by another public relations firm, but church officials hired a new attorney, J. Michael Hennigan, who recommended Sitrick & Co.
“We’re really proud to be involved in this,” said Michael Sitrick, 54. “We’re confident the church is taking proactive measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I don’t have to be Catholic to be anxious to help them work through this.”
Cardinal Roger Mahony has tried to stave off questions from the public and media about the priest abuse scandal. More than 30 current or former priests of the archdiocese are now under investigation by law enforcement authorities for alleged sexual misconduct with children.
Hennigan said he chose Sitrick because the archdiocese “was not doing well in the press. I thought the press was focusing on the very negative aspects without the whole story coming out.”
Sitrick said the first order of business will be attempting to separate perception from reality.
“We’re trying to get perceptions to equal reality,” he said. “You can’t do anything about what was, only what is and what will be.”
Church officials did not disclose how much the public relations firm will receive for its work. However, Sitrick charged Orange County more than $400,000 when it dealt with its bankruptcy in the mid-1990s.