VENICE  |  For the 14th consecutive year, during Child Abuse Awareness Prevention Month (April), the Diocese of Venice will be offering Mass to pray for the victims of abuse. The Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane and take place at 8 a.m., April 16, 2021, at Epiphany Cathedral, 350 Tampa Ave. W., Venice. The Mass will be live-streamed, and all are welcome to attend as we come together to pray for the victims of abuse.

“As Christian adults, we have a moral responsibility and are entrusted by God with the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of minors and vulnerable adults,” Bishop Dewane said. “The Diocese of Venice is steadfast in its commitment to providing a comprehensive program to protect the most vulnerable from all types of abuse while raising awareness to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.”

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In 1983, recognizing the alarming rate at which children continued to be abused and neglected and the need for innovative programs to prevent child abuse, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives proclaimed April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. 

In keeping with continued efforts to nationally promote awareness of child abuse and neglect, the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined in this effort. Each year the Diocese conducts Safe Environment Program training sessions for thousands, including clergy, religious and laity who work or volunteer in the Diocese.

As minors and vulnerable adults participate in activities within or sponsored by the Diocese, the mission of the Safe Environment Program is:

• To provide required education for all employees (clergy, religious and laity), those volunteers and others regularly involved with minors, and for parents, as to the issue of abuse of children including the detection, prevention and reporting of child abuse.

• To provide required training programs for children and young people in our Catholic schools and religious education programs. This includes age-appropriate materials pertaining to personal safety and information about improper touching and relationships. Children are not expected to be fully knowledgeable about child abuse or of the laws governing care of children, but they need to know when they should seek assistance from a trusted adult.

• To thoroughly screen and evaluate the background of all diocesan employees – clergy, religious and laity – and those volunteers who work with children and young people.

• To hold those who minister in the name of the Church in the Diocese of Venice, all diocesan employees (clergy, religious and laity) and those volunteers who work with children and young people, to Christ-centered and professional codes of conduct.

Since 2002, the Diocese has engaged a professional company to conduct background screening through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation with results available to the Diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator within 24-48 hours. There have been more than 50,000 background screenings and in excess of 57,000 persons trained in Safe Environment. In the last five years alone, 14,755 individuals were background screened and more than 15,000 trained in safe environment. While all Diocesan staff and volunteers go through Safe Environment training, only those who work with minors or vulnerable adults must be fingerprinted and trained in Safe Environment prior to beginning employment or volunteering.

The mission of the Diocese of Venice Safe Environment Program is to provide education for all employees (clergy, religious and laity), those volunteers and others regularly working with minors, and parents, about the issue of abuse of children, including the detection, prevention and reporting of child abuse. In addition, the Safe Environment Program has a component which includes training sessions for children and young people in Catholic schools.

The Diocese of Venice annually undergoes a comprehensive audit by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection to ensure that the Diocese is in compliance with current directives. 

For more detailed information about what the Diocese of Venice does to prevent abuse or how to sign up for a Safe Environment class, visit www.dioceseofvenice.org/safeenvironment.

Report any abuse against minors to the Florida Department of Children and Families at 800-962-2873. Further, if Diocesan personnel or volunteers are involved, also notify the Diocesan Victims Assistance Coordinator, Susan Benton, at 941-416-6114.