Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

 

The Diocese of Richmond has taken another step in its ongoing commitment to transparency and responsiveness to those who wish to report concerns, e.g., misuse of resources, breach of confidentiality, inappropriate behavior.

On Monday, July 1, Bishop Barry C. Knestout announced the implementation of EthicsPoint, an independent, third-party reporting system through which people can make those reports anonymously and confidentially.

“Christian stewardship calls us to utilize the resources of the diocese with integrity,” he said in a letter to the faithful. “Providing such an avenue for honest, thoughtful discourse on topics that may not otherwise come to light will be advantageous in supporting the people and institutions of the Diocese of Richmond.”

According to Dorothy Mahanes, human resources officer for the diocese, EthicsPoint provides a “great service to interested parties” to make a report.

“It could be clergy, seminarians, employees, volunteers, parishioners, independent contractors that are concerned about something that just isn’t right,” she said.

Reports may be made in one of two ways — by calling the EthicsPoint toll-free hotline at 844-739- 3210 or by filing a report at www.richmonddiocese.org.

Mahanes said the online option might be the easier option for some people, but that those who call will be able to speak with a “live person” in the language of their choice. With either option, the person will receive a password so they can check the status of their report.

She noted that while some people are comfortable relaying their concerns directly to bosses parish leadership, school leadership or a diocesan office, others are not.

“But we recognize there are times when people might not be comfortable, and we respect that. For that reason, that is one of the driving forces of having this implemented,” Mahanes said. “Individuals have another mechanism to report because we would rather hear from them than not.”

She emphasized that people should not hesitate to use the EthicsPoint hotline or to go online even if they aren’t sure if something is questionable.

“If you’re doubtful, call. File the report,” Mahanes said. “For those who might say, ‘It really doesn’t impact me,’ well it impacts the parish or the school and others. So take a few moments — it doesn’t take long — and file the report.

Emphasis on stewardship

EthicsPoint, which is used worldwide in 13,000 businesses, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York and the Diocese of Arlington, was presented to the bishop’s cabinet, the priests’ council and to school principals.

“We really want to have — and Bishop Knestout has said this — an open and transparent environment. We want to make sure we are a good steward of all the resources and blessings that are received within the diocese, and a better environment for all regardless of who you are and what you are doing in the diocese,” Mahanes said. “We believe this will give us the best environment possible.”

She noted that the human resources office has always been available to talk with employees, parishioners, volunteers about any concerns they had.

“We’re expanding the way we’ve received the information. The mission of the Office of Human Resources is to ensure that we have a comfortable, productive workplace for all. We have worked toward that,” Mahanes said. “EthicsPoint gives individuals another route to take.”

How data can be used

Because of the way it is set up, EthicsPoint will allow the diocese to manage the data it receives via the hotline and online.

“The incident management system will enable us, after a period of time, to really get information on what we are seeing,” Mahanes said. “Are we seeing more reports on financial issues? That information will be extremely beneficial in determining if we need to create a new policy or revise policies. It will be beneficial to develop trainings.”

Bishop Knestout spoke to that in his letter.

“We must uphold the commitments we have made and the legacy we have been handed in a fair and honorable manner,” he said. “This includes reviewing existing policies and procedures and revising them in order to ensure that the diocese is providing the tools and environment needed to strengthen our Church, our communities and one another.”

Mahanes said if there are “gaps,” the data will help the diocese determine where the gaps are and how to address them.

“We have to wait about six months to get a good feel for what that data looks like in order to provide a baseline,” Mahanes said.

‘Responsible thing to do’

The cost to set-up EthicsPoint was a little more than $6,000, and it will cost about $16,000 annually to maintain the system.

“The cost benefit far outweighs the small investment,” Mahanes said.

She emphasized that the EthicsPoint hotline is not a 911 number nor is it the number to call to report suspected sexual abuse by clergy, religious, lay employee or volunteer of the Diocese of Richmond. Those reports are to be made to law enforcement and Child Protective Services at 800- 552-7096 and then to the confidential Victim Assistance number at 877-887-9603.

Mahanes said secular organizations and others have been implementing EthicsPoint because it is “the responsible thing to do.”

“We want to do the right thing,” she said. “EthicsPoint is the right thing.”

Bishop Knestout concluded his letter by saying, “It is my hope that implementation of the EthicsPoint platform will continue to move our diocese toward fulfilling our promise to remain open and transparent in all we undertake.”