By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
The Diocese of Sioux City was among the 60 to 70 dioceses to undergo an audit this year from a new firm that has been contracted by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops – Stonebridge Business Partners of Rochester, N.Y.
Stonebridge’s two auditors, Jim Buffum and Stephanie Roberts, came to Sioux City in late November which was the last of the firm’s dioceses to assess for the year.
“We are part of a CPA firm, auditors who do nontraditional services – compliance auditing, fraud work, investigations as opposed to traditional financial statement audits and tax work,” he explained. “There is no financial or monetary aspect to these audits.”
Dioceses participate in these compliance assessments every three years. The auditors usually spend two-and-one-half days in dioceses reviewing records, interviewing several individuals involved in maintaining compliance with the charter, conducting audits on-site at the parish level and sometimes interviewing abuse victims. They check out processes for such things as background checks and safe environment training.
“We want to gain an understanding of the process, policy and procedures that each diocese has in place to comply with the charter,” Roberts said. “Every diocese is a little different but the main goal is the same for everyone.”
That goal, she said, is protecting children, youth and vulnerable adults.
Msgr. Mark Duchaine, vicar general, said, “I always approach something like this with a little bit of trepidation; you can’t help but worry about having missed something or of having failed in some particular practice. But the two auditors with whom we worked were easy to talk with; they made the process seem much more like an elongated conversation than a formal interview. I think almost all of those who met with the auditors felt the same way, and so this particular audit turned out to be a pleasant surprise.”
Colleen Sulsberger, diocesan safe environment coordinator, said the process was very positive. She mentioned that the auditors had worked with nearly 70 dioceses before coming to Sioux City and “we were able to reap the benefits of their experience in discussing the challenges we face in implementing the charter.”
“I am proud of the work that our diocese has already done to ensure the safety of our young people, and I know that we are going to make significant improvements in our safe environment programs in the coming months,” she said. “We are fortunate to have the full support of Bishop Nickless and Msgr. Duchaine together, to continue to improve our training and our accountability, and to make those processes easier to manage and more effective as well.”
After a visit, dioceses receive two letters. The first is a notification as to whether the diocese is in compliance with the charter.
“The second document that we put together is a management letter in which we offer our suggestions and recommendations for improving the diocese’s policies, procedures and the effectiveness of those in their ability to comply with the terms of the charter,” Buffum said. “It is up to the diocese and the bishop which recommendations they choose to implement and how they go about it.”
Items included in the management letters are typically “best practice” suggestions.
Msgr. Duchaine said he was particularly pleased that unlike previous audits where the diocese was simply informed by letter that “we were ‘in compliance’ with the Dallas Charter and our own safe environment policy, we will receive from Stonebridge a formal management letter that will provide us with valuable suggestions and recommendations that can be introduced into our practices."
Presently, the Catholic Church is the only organization in which Stonebridge works with in relation to assessing safe environment programs.
“But clearly, with what has been going on in the news with academic institutions, there are other organizations that have experienced these types of difficulties that they may begin to pursue similar things that the Catholic Church has put into place,” Buffum said.
Since the visits are complete for this year, in the next few months Stonebridge will compile a report for the USCCB that ultimately will be reviewed at a bishops’ meeting.
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