By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND
Fosston – On July 17, the Diocese of Crookston hosted a free safe environment training seminar at St. Mary, Fosston. More than 100 priests, deacons, youth ministers, parish and school employees attended. Deacon Bernie Nojadera, Executive Director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection spoke about boundaries in ministry. The training was previously scheduled for April 12 but was postponed due to a winter storm.
“This is a training that has gained much traction and I have provided it to several dioceses so far,” Deacon Nojadera said in an interview prior to the workshop. As part of the USCCB, his office helps the nation’s dioceses and bishops create and maintain safe environments and assist victims of sexual misconduct on the part of clergy or other church personnel.
Vicar General Msgr. Mike Foltz said with everything currently happening regarding sexual abuse, harassment and boundary issues both within the Church and more broadly in society, this training will be helpful.
“I’m hoping this will put us all on the same page with our understanding and then we can move forward together,” he said. “The more we know about these issues, the better we can be prepared and help others that we minister with and that we supervise so we can avoid people getting hurt.”
Deacon Nojadera said he is grateful to Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner and the diocese for continuing to work for the safety of children and vulnerable individuals.
“It is for everyone’s protection that we have trainings like this, especially when we are looking at the roles the Church has and the roles the ministers carry – not just clerics, but pastoral ministers and lay individuals in ministerial roles,” Deacon Nojadera said.
He highlighted the importance of people knowing policies and how to carry them out, in addition to having familiarity with mechanisms for reporting misconduct.
Renee Tate, diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator, said encouraging a wide variety of participants to attend the training was important.
“Our hope is to make clergy, employees and volunteers more aware of what constitutes a boundary violation,” she said. “We want everybody to be on board, we want everybody to be aware because we are all mandated reporters.”
Deacon Nojadera said training and practice in different scenarios helps create and maintain safe environments.
“Ongoing training is essential because what you would like to develop – for your clergy, for your employees, for your staff, for your volunteers – is a muscle memory so if they are in a situation, they don’t necessarily have to think about it. They know what to do because they have been training, they’ve been practicing it without hesitation and they’re able to carry out what needs to be carried out with confidence and without hesitation,” he said.
Laura Brickson, Principal of St. Bernard’s School in Thief River Falls, appreciated the emphasis on continuing training so people know what to do when situations arise.
“It is helpful having increased awareness of what to look for, but even more importantly what we can do to help the people we are working with whether it be students, youth or families,” she said. “We are not just mandated reporters, we are there to be of service in order to help.”
Throughout the workshop, Deacon Nojadera used case studies, audience participation and practice scenarios to illustrate handling issues of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse, as well as the importance of transparency and establishing boundaries. He also went through diocesan policy and codes of conduct, particularly in relation to maintaining and creating safe and healthy boundaries.
“We are looking at ways to stay safe and secure because we are dealing with boundaries all the time,” Deacon Nojadera said. “Boundaries are very important because they are there to keep us safe.”
He emphasized the importance of keeping boundaries across all spheres of interaction including physical, emotional, and non-verbal communication.
Tate said clarity is important when setting boundaries.
“We need to be aware of how the person on the receiving end feels,” Tate said. “We can’t assume how people feel.”
Information about creating and maintaining healthy boundaries is part of this year’s safe environment certification module. Each year all clergy, diocesan and parish employees, and any volunteers who may interact with children complete training about recognizing and reporting abuse and answer questions to test comprehension.
To learn more about boundaries in ministry, Deacon Nojadera recommended the video "Why We Need Boundaries" by Father Mike Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth.