Safe Environments Overview

Read an overview of Safe Environments (PDF)

For questions or concerns relating to Safe Environments, Background Checks, VIRTUS Awareness Training, Resources for Victims of Abuse or Mandated Reporting, please contact

Erin Neil
(203) 416-1406
(203) 650-3265

To schedule a VIRTUS facilitator to come onsite to conduct a live training at your school or parish

Bernadette Griffin, Safe Environment Program Assistant
Office (203) 416-1650
Cell (475) 988-5366

Welcome    Contact    Safe Environment Training (VIRTUS Registration & Re-Certification)    Dallas Charter

Q & A    Essential Norms    2015 Safe Environments Handbook    Report an Incident    Background Checks   

Mandated Reporting    Updates    List of Accused Clerics    Continuing Education Opportunities   

Safe Environments Initiative Q & A

New - 02/10/2015
Questions and Answers Regarding the Canonical Process for the Resolution of Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests and Deacons

What is the Safe Environment Initiative?

The Safe Environment Initiative involves all priests, deacons, religious men and women, lay employees, volunteers, and contract workers in Fairfield County. It is intended to make them more aware of the warning signs of child sexual abuse and how to prevent it. The trainings also provide the correct methods to report suspected abuse both in The State of Connecticut and The Diocese of Bridgeport.

Why is it necessary?

The Safe Environment Initiative is aimed at ensuring that all people who come into contact with the Catholic Church in Fairfield County feel safe and comfortable.

When did it go into effect?

The Safe Environment Initiative was inaugurated in June 2003 by Bishop William E. Lori.

Why wasn't it needed before that date?

The Church's efforts to secure a safe environment are not new. The original Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Policy was promulgated in 1991 and established a strict code of conduct for all Diocesan personnel regarding sexual misconduct with a minor. The policy was revised and reissued in 2001 and 2002, and updated to conform to all civil and Church laws, including the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People." What is new is the coordinated approach and public commitment, under the direction of Erin Neil, director of the new Office of Safe Environments.

Is anyone exempt from the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Policy?

No. All 20,000 people who work for the Church in Fairfield County -- clergy and lay, employee and volunteer -- are required to read and sign the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Policy. The Policy outlines the procedure to follow if abuse of a minor is suspected.

What are the components of the Initiative?

There are four main components of the Safe Environment Initiative: the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Policy; criminal background checks; awareness training sessions; and the Office for Safe Environments.

The Background Check

Does everyone who works for the Diocese have to undergo a background check?

The simple answer is yes.


Maintaining a safe environment is everyone's responsibility, and no one who works for the Catholic Church should be exempt. For our initiative to be successful, everyone, without exception, should participate. That means all of our clergy and employees, but also anyone who comes into contact with children-catechists, teachers, lectors, Eucharistic ministers, volunteers at a parish picnic or carnival, and contract employees. Even Bishop Lori has undergone a background check.

Who else does background checks?

Background checks are now required by more and more employers and by organizations that deal with children-Scouts, youth soccer leagues, and Little League Baseball, for example.

How are these checks done?

Checks are done on all individuals who are 18 and older. It does not include youth who are doing community service for Confirmation. We conduct a criminal background check on everyone; an additional credit check on those people who are responsible for finances; and a motor vehicle check for any individual responsible for driving children. Not to do so would violate our policy. We do not check medical records.

Is anyone exempt from background checks?

No. It is important to remember that background checks can be a powerful deterrent. Predators share information on how to access organizations, so the idea is to create a reality where they'll say, "Don't even go near the Catholic Church-they have a policy in place that will find you." And that will deter any predators from invading our safe environment. To accomplish this we must have 100% compliance. Where we provide the exception, the predator will find it.

Will my past mistakes be held against me?

The only behaviors we have zero tolerance for are sex crimes and crimes against children. All other convictions will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The intent is not to cause harm or public embarrassment to people for past mistakes that they have already been punished for.

Awareness Training

What are the goals of awareness training?

To recognize the warning signs of sexual abuse, and to know how to respond if abuse is suspected. It is intended to restore trust in the Church and her many ministries and good works among members of our communities. Most importantly, the goal of awareness training is the protection of our children.

Who is conducting awareness training and who must attend?

Everyone who works or volunteers for the Diocese or any parishes or programs must attend an awareness training session conducted by one of the 15 Trained Facilitators for The Diocese of Bridgeport. The Facilitators have received extensive training from an independent, professional organization called VIRTUS.

Am I required to participate in awareness training as a condition of my employment or volunteer service?

Yes. We hope that everyone will willingly participate and acknowledge the importance of this public commitment. It is important to remember that what the Church is asking of its members is very common in the secular workplace. While we are a Church, we are also a major employer, and we serve people of all ages.

Is this the right thing to do?

Yes, it is the right thing to do. Many times doing the right thing can be inconvenient or difficult, but it still must be done. This effort is not about causing public embarrassment to anyone. It will require patience and persistence, and a fair amount of paperwork. But our goal is just: creating an environment that is healthy, nurturing, comfortable-and safe.

The Office for Safe Environments

What is the Office of Safe Environments?

The Office of Safe Environments oversees the implementation of the programs and policies.

Who is the director of the new Office of Safe Environments?

Erin Neil, L.C.S.W., is the Director of the Office of Safe Environments. A social worker, Ms. Neil has over six years of experience working with the elderly, disabled, and mentally ill. She has also interned with the Caring Connections program of Catholic Family Services.

Additional Questions

What is the procedure to follow if I suspect that a child has been abused?

Anyone who has actual knowledge of, or has reasonable cause to suspect, misconduct against a minor by any personnel of the Diocese must report that information immediately to Ms. Erin Neil, L.C.S.W, Director of Safe Environments: (203) 650-3265. All reports are confidential.

Mandated reporters under state law, such as a priest or school teacher, must also directly report any incident of sexual abuse of a minor to the State of Connecticut Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at (800) 842-2288. In fact, anyone can make a confidential report to this hotline.

As an employee or volunteer, you should also report any incident involving sexual abuse of a minor to your immediate supervisor.

Whom do I contact if I have more questions?

Please continue the conversation with your parish priests. For information on the Safe Environments Initiative contact Erin Neil, Director of Safe Environments, at (203) 416-1406, or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

There is a dedicated page on our Safe Environment Initiative and its programs on our Diocesan website. In addition, all forms and information relative to background checks is available on the Diocesan website, under the "Resources: Human Resources" banner.