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The meeting resulted in the two priests being transferred for not conducting background checks of everybody working in their respective churches. In transferring Bierschenk and Ortega, the diocese set a national precedent and demonstrated that it is serious about the safety of its parishioners. "One of the key elements of the safe environment program is a background check on all employees and all volunteers that deal with children and the vulnerable," Galante says. "Father Ortega and Father Bierschenk did not do the checks."
Edlund was instrumental in this decision. "What the bishops heard from me was my outrage," she says. "I was outraged that pastors could have left implementations of safe environment so unattended, particularly in the climate of our times. Discussions around such issues are always collaborative. They usually involve the two bishops and me and sometimes the personnel board. In the cases of fathers Bierschenk and Ortega--involving the removal of a pastor or the suspension of a priest--I favored strong disciplinary action.
"I believe that some of these policies around safe environment are non-negotiable, so I take a tough stand. I felt the decision to remove [Bierschenk] was justified, although when the pastor met with me and the bishops, I think he was a bit surprised by the position I took."
And this, in essence, is what dioceses across the country can expect when they draft their own safe environment programs. The Dallas policy, which is touted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a model, will more than likely be the skeletal frame by which other Catholic communities fashion their programs.
Article 12 of the charter approved by the bishops says: "Diocese will establish 'safe environment' programs. They will cooperate with parents, civil authorities, educators and community organizations to provide education and training for children, youths, parents, ministers, educators and others about ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children."
No matter how great safe environment looks on paper, there is no such thing as a faultless program. The children may be better protected, but some priests who were otherwise upstanding will get swept up in this whirlwind.